This week, Illinois legislators approved a groundbreaking piece of legislation aimed at replacing prescription opioid painkillers with medical marijuana. After receiving bipartisan support from the state's Senate and House of Representatives, the far-reaching MMJ expansion bill will move to the desk of Governor Bruce Rauner.
If passed, Senate Bill 0336 (or the Alternative to Opioids Act), would allow any Illinois resident with a valid opioid prescription or medical condition that would otherwise be treated with opioids to legally access the state's medical marijuana program. According to the Chicago Tribune, instead of jumping through the traditional hoops of Illinois' highly regulated medical cannabis program, opioid users seeking marijuana as a replacement would be waived from fingerprinting and criminal background checks.
The legislation is the latest attempt to solidify cannabis as both a viable alternative and rehabilitation aid in the nationwide fight against opioids. For the past few years, researchers around the country have compiled data showing lower rates of pain pill addiction in legal weed states and countless instances of cannabis-assisted rehabilitation. And so even as federal research barriers continue to push those pro-cannabis studies to the fringe of drug policy, Illinois legislators are not keen on waiting for prohibition-friendly policymakers to catch up.
"The only two things I know for certain is, opioids kill people, and marijuana does not," the bill's original sponsor, Senator Don Harmon, told the Tribune.
A similar bill was introduced in Colorado earlier this year that would have allowed any Centennial State doctor to write a medical marijuana recommendation for any ailment they would otherwise suggest opioids to treat, but that bill was defeated before it left the state senate.
In Illinois, the progressive medical marijuana expansion legislation will now face its toughest challenge yet at the desk of Governor Rauner, a vocal opponent of most marijuana causes, including the legalization of recreational weed.
Currently, Illinois has some 37,000 medical marijuana patients, while the most recent data reveals that over 8 million painkiller prescriptions were filled in the state in 2015.
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