Pubdate: Fri, 09 Feb 2018
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2018 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Rj Starr, Community Contributor


On Wednesday, the Illinois Senate Executive Committee overwhelmingly
passed SB336, a bill that would allow people with opioid prescriptions
to apply for a medical marijuana card, with only Minority Leader Bill
Brady, a Republican from Bloomington, voting no in a 16-1 decisive

If signed into law, SB336 would amend the medical marijuana program to
allow those who are prescribed opioids to apply for medical marijuana
instead, giving patients the ability to choose medical cannabis, which
has consistently shown to be a safer alternative, over the highly
addictive and often deadly opioids.

According to the bill's main sponsor, Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from
Oak Park, "Research shows that as the number of opioids prescribed has
risen over the past few decades, so has opioid addiction, overdose and
death. This is a crisis, and it is rapidly getting worse. Research has
also shown that medical cannabis is a safe alternative treatment for
the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed."

At Midwest Compassion Center, a state-licensed medical cannabis
dispensary in Romeoville, CEO Nicole van Rensburg is no stranger to
the heart-wrenching stories from patients afflicted by opioids: "There
was a 21% increase in opioid-related deaths from 2015 to 2016, and
data for 2017, still being collected by the Centers for Disease
Control, is already showing a 27% increase," said van Rensburg.
Projections as of August 2017 were already well over 64,000 deaths,
and not all jurisdictions have reported in.

Of the hardest hit areas, Ohio is near the top of the list, with CNN
reporting in August that a morgue in Montgomery County had run out of
room with bodies from opioid-related deaths stacked floor to ceiling.
"In the state of Ohio, I see between three to five patients a day in
the emergency room due to opioid-related overdose or illnesses," said
David Yin, MD, an Emergency Room physician in Cleveland.

The Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program first passed in 2013
defines what medical conditions qualify for medical cannabis therapies
and include cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, seizures and several
other medical conditions. If SB336 is passed, patients who are
prescribed opioids would be able to apply for a medical marijuana
card, and because of the opioid crisis and urgent need for
intervention, would have the regular background checks and
fingerprinting requirements waived for the first year.

As states around the country scramble to implement corrective programs
to combat the opioid crisis, the implementation of medical cannabis
programs is gaining momentum, fueled by both overwhelming urgency and
immense public support. In Illinois alone, studies have shown that
participants in the medical marijuana program have reported a 67%
decrease in the use of opioids once they were given access to medical
cannabis. "I think it's important to understand we've got data now to
show that this is working when making this available to people," said
State Senator Heather Steans, a Democrat from Chicago.

According to RJ Starr, Head of Regulatory Affairs for medical cannabis
dispensary Bloom Medicinals in Maryland, there is another side that is
not getting attention: "With respect to the opioid crisis, it's time
to bifurcate our collective response. On the one hand we need to offer
sustainable solutions and urgently get help to people suffering from
opioid addiction. On the other hand - and with the same impassioned
investigations and action that led to the discovery that big tobacco
was manipulating nicotine levels to cause addiction resulting in the
deaths of millions - we need a public outcry."

One thing is certain, the State of Illinois is moving faster than
many, and over at Midwest Compassion Center, van Rensburg is
optimistic, "I can't begin to explain how moving it is to hear a
patient say, 'this has changed my life,' and knowing that all the hard
work, all the long nights, all the regulatory requirements - all of it
- - was worth every moment."
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MAP posted-by: Matt