Responding to the nation's opioid addiction crisis and the overwhelming data suggesting that medical marijuana can aid in both pain relief and rehabilitation, state lawmakers in Colorado and Illinois have introduced far-reaching legislation to try and replace dangerous prescription painkillers with the all-natural plant.
According to the Denver Post, Senate Bill 18-261, introduced late last week by Republican State Senator Vicki Marble, would allow Centennial State doctors to write a medical marijuana recommendation for any ailment that they would otherwise prescribe painkillers for.
Colorado has been home to one of the nation's most active adult-use marijuana markets for nearly five years now, but on the medical side of things, the state still lags behind many of its West Coast counterparts. Colorado currently has only nine qualifying conditions that make patients eligible for MMJ, all of which require debilitating ailments or life-long suffering. Because opioids can be prescribed for ailments as minor as tooth surgery, cannabis advocates argue that even short term injuries can lead to long term addictions.
"We've got nothing to lose and so much to gain," said Blair Hubbard, who told the Denver Post that she is recovering from an addiction to opioids that began with pills she was prescribed when her wisdom teeth were taken out. "I'm tired of hearing of people dying or people sick in the hospital because of what we thought was an innocent introduction to pain medication," she said.
In Illinois, legislators are taking a similar approach to their state's pain pill epidemic, but instead of putting the power to recommend cannabis in the hands of doctors, the Prairie State would allow any recent painkiller prescription to act as valid medical marijuana recommendation. This would give opioid users the ability to substitute pharmaceuticals for legal weed at their own discretion.
"When people ask me if we are not simply creating a gateway, I tell people this: I don't know if cannabis is addictive, but I do know this: Opioids and heroin kills people, cannabis does not," state senator Dan Harmon, a sponsor of the Illinois medical marijuana expansion bill, told the Chicago Tribune.
Over the past two years, a plethora of university and government-lead research has reported that legal cannabis has had a significant effect on decreasing opioid use, both discouraging pill abuse and also helping users wean off dependence. In kind, a number of states, including Colorado, have added chronic or untreatable pain to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Still, no state has passed legislation to turn any opioid painkiller prescriptions itself into a de facto fast-pass to dispensary access.
But while Colorado's medical cannabis expansion plan has been met with legislative support since its introduction last week, a number of lawmakers in Illinois have attempted to dissuade their colleagues and constituents from supporting the opioid interjection attempt. Detractors are drawing attention to the fact that the cannabis industry is lobbying behind the bill. Senator Harmon, a lead supporter for the bill, has received at least $8,000 in donations from the state's medical marijuana industry.
Despite those objections, Illinois' pot-for-pills legislation passed through the state senate on Thursday in a landslide vote of 44-6. The bill will now move to the state House for debate.
Further west, Colorado's cannabis-over-opioids substitute proposition has yet to see a vote, but is currently under consideration in the state's Senate Committee of the Whole.
Are you over 18?
Follow Zach Harris on Twitter