Illinois legalized medical cannabis in 2013, making it the 20th state in the U.S. to do so.
Under the law, officially named the “Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act,” the use of medical marijuana is allowed in tightly controlled circumstances. Legally registered patients can use cannabis for medical purposes as long as they have a prescription from a physician and holds a medical cannabis license.
The state’s medical cannabis program lists more than 30 specific medical conditions that can qualify patients for medical cannabis treatment.
As of April 2018, more than 34,700 patients have qualified to participate in Illinois’ medical cannabis program.
Now, in a progressive move, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 336, which is a bill that allows doctors to prescribe medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy was the bill’s House sponsor. According to the Chicago Democrat, the legislation reforms pain treatment, as well as provides patients with more options to manage pain.
The bill, also called the Alternative to Opioids Act, was made effective immediately. It allows patients to use cannabis as a painkiller in place of highly addictive opioids.
The new measure is put in place as a means to combat the opioid epidemic that beset the country. Experts believe that cannabis may be the only effective remedy to the ever-increasing number of deaths related to opioid overdose.
For Illinois alone, according to the state Department of Public Health, there are 11,000 opioid-related overdose fatalities recorded since 2008. In 2016, fatal opioid overdose cases reached nearly 2,000.
Pursuant to the new law, physicians have the authority to issue medical cannabis prescriptions to any patient who qualifies for a condition that is typically treated with painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin.
This new measure also means that some of the major restrictions previously set by the state with regard to medical cannabis license applications have been lifted.
For one, license applicants will no longer need to provide fingerprints and go through background checks to get a medical cannabis prescription. Moreover, patients can now complete an application form online with a doctor’s authorization in order to get a provisional registration to purchase medical cannabis while they are waiting for the state for make a final review of their case.
In a statement, the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois said that the state has taken a relevant step forward in terms of health care policy. The alliance added that with the signing of the bill into law, they are helping address the wave of prescription opioid abuses that is costing Illinois thousands of lives. Moreover, the new legislation gives patients the real relief that the need through the state’s medical cannabis program.