The measure, signed into law by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Aug. 28, 2018, could dramatically expand access to medical cannabis in Illinois. Gov. Rauner’s signature makes cannabis available as an opioid painkiller replacement and facilitates the MMJ application process for all who qualify.
Under this legislation, doctors will be authorized to recommend medical marijuana to any patient who has or would qualify for a prescription for opioids like OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin.
The new law was much sought after in this state where an epidemic of overdose deaths from narcotics killed almost 2,000 people in 2016 and an estimated 72,000 people nationwide last year.
The measure is also noteworthy for removing some of the major restrictions on the medical marijuana program in Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Applicants will no longer have to be fingerprinted and undergo criminal background checks. Those who complete an online application with a doctor’s authorization will get a provisional registration to buy medical cannabis while they wait for state officials to make a final review of their request.
Rauner signed the bill at the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit that distributes clean needles and overdose-reversing naloxone, and conducts other programs to help prevent deaths from heroin overdose.
Suzanne Carlberg-Racich, director of research for the alliance and assistant professor of public health at DePaul University, said she welcomes the new law as a way to prevent overdose deaths and provide a less addictive treatment for pain relief.
“This is a great step in the right direction,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m pleased to see an alternative for pain management that doesn’t have any potential for a fatal overdose.”
To qualify for medical cannabis in Illinois, patients must have any of about 40 debilitating medical conditions listed in the law, including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
Illinois’s MMJ program, one of the most restrictive in the country, has approved about 42,000 authorized patients, who have bought about $200 million worth of pot since sales started in November 2015.