Opioid overdoses killed more than 1,900 people in Illinois in 2016 alone, and the Illinois Senate is moving closer to allowing medical marijuana to be used for conditions that opioids are prescribed for as a way to help curb the alarming trend. Supporters are confident the votes are there to make it happen.
A Senate committee passed Senate Bill 336 out of committee Wednesday with only Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voting no.
The proposal would add “any other medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed by a physician based on generally accepted standards of care” to the list of debilitating medical conditions allowed in the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.
There are 40 different conditions currently on the list, such as cancer, fibromyalgia and others.
“While recognizing the importance of addressing the opioid crisis,” a statement from Brady’s office said, “Leader Brady’s vote was reflective of the concerns raised by the Illinois Department of Public Health on the legislation in its current form.”
IDPH said in a statement the measure is too broad.
“IDPH would be forced to make a judgement on what could be prescribed by a physician, for which there is no clear physician-based, generally accepted standard of care for prescribing opioids,” IDPH said. “ This would also expand the list of qualifying conditions to include anything for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed, such as a sprained ankle, pain after a fall, or having a tooth pulled.”
Chris Stone, who owns medical cannabis dispensary HCI Alternative with operations in Springfield and Collinsville, said opening medical pot up to those who are prescribed opioids to relieve pain offers another option for patients in pain. He said opioids may relieve pain, but they diminish patients’ quality of life.
“Having an option that is going to be less corrosive to your body, that’s going to allow you to function, should be made available to these patients,” Stone said.
He said it’s unclear what the governor’s stance is on the issue, but he thinks the votes are there.
“I think it’s going to get enough support in both chambers,” Stone said, “but the governor is going to have to make a decision as to whether he’s going to support it or not support it based on a supermajority.”
If both the Senate and the House approved the measure and Rauner decided to veto it, it would take a supermajority of votes in the two chambers to override.
IDPH also worried about having a short time frame to approve a potential flood of new applicants to the program if the proposal were to be approved, causing backlogs because of staffing and resource limitations.
“Without a major infusion of staff and resources, IDPH would not be able to manage this volume of applications,” a statement said. “This 14 day timeline would also move those individuals applying as an alternative to opioids, ahead of individuals who are applying for one of the approved conditions, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.”
The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Illinois Family Institute and Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems all oppose the measure.
The Marijuana Policy Project supports the proposal and said the bill “would also take the sensible step of removing the requirement that medical cannabis patients submit fingerprints, provided they qualify under the new provisions.”
“It is a huge first step for the many Illinoisans suffering unbearable pain every day,” MPP’s Chris Lindsay said.
A judge in January ordered the state to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition, something added by the now-defunct Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board. But the state’s public health department plans to appeal the ruling, which will delay its implementation.
The medical cannabis pilot program expires in 2020.