CARBONDALE – Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposal that would expand the use of medical marijuana to fight the state's opioid crisis.
The Senate bill would allow individuals who qualify for opioid prescriptions to apply for the state's medical cannabis program, The Southern Illinoisan reported.
The proposal would create a pilot program where patients can take a physician certification to a dispensary to receive medical marijuana. Dispensaries would have to verify the certification and be required to dispense medical cannabis in set amounts tied to the recommended duration of the opioid prescription.
The bill overwhelmingly passed in the Senate. The Illinois House Rules Committee has now been asked to review the legislation.
Medical marijuana could help patients transition away from opioids or treat pain without ever using them, said Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, the bill's sponsor.
"We know that medical cannabis is a safe alternative treatment for the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed," Harmon said. "This legislation aims to stop dependence before it begins by providing an immediate alternative."
The bill is a response to the state's growing opioid crisis, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 residents over the past decade, said Republican Sen. Dale Fowler of Harrisburg.
"By supporting the implementation of a pilot program, lawmakers are seeking realistic solutions to a very concerning public health crisis while also ensuring that we are providing medical relief to patients who are in pain and suffering," Fowler said.
Dr. Jeff Ripperda, a family medicine doctor in Murphysboro, said the bill has benefits and drawbacks.
"I don't like the implication that medical cannabis is a definitively valid treatment for any condition," he said. "I do like that opening access to cannabis decreases the number of opiates used. I'm a little disappointed that lawmakers aren't approaching the topic with a little more nuance, but I'm frequently disappointed in this regard."