Illinois — Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 336 into law Aug. 28, a measure that significantly expands Illinois’ medical marijuana program by enabling patients to access medical marijuana in place of pharmaceutical opioid medications.
The new law, known as the Alternative to Opioids Act, comes amid a nationwide struggle with fatal opioid overdoses, which claimed more than 72,000 lives last year. Effective immediately, physicians will have the authority to offer medical marijuana as an alternative to any patient holding – or qualified to hold – prescriptions for painkillers, such as Vicodin or Oxycontin.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic,” the governor said as he signed the bill into law on Chicago’s West Side on Tuesday. “… We are creating an alternative to opioid addiction. … It’s clear that medical marijuana treats pain effectively, and is less addictive and disruptive than opioids.”
Illinois is one of 31 states in the country that administers a medical marijuana program, and it’s among the most restrictive. The state lists around 40 debilitating conditionswith which patients must be afflicted to qualify, according to the Chicago Tribune. The medical marijuana program has treated around 42,000 patients since 2015, the Tribune notes, compared with nearly 6 million opioid prescriptions filled in 2017 alone.
Rauner’s signing of SB 336 follows another measure seemingly planting the seeds for the state’s growing openness to cannabis. Senate Bill 2298, signed by the governor Aug. 26, lifted restrictions on the industrial production of hemp. That bill was sponsored by state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights.