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Swapping Pills For Cannabis In Illinois

The program offers those who have been or could be prescribed opioids another option

Last August, then-Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner signed a bill that allows patients who use prescription opioid medication to change over to medical cannabis. The Illinois medical cannabis industry cheered the passage of the bill. Unfortunately, five months later, the program is just getting underway; the government cited problems in developing the protocol.

The program offers those who have been or could be prescribed an opioid, “another option for managing their pain,” says Illinois Department of Public Health spokesperson Melaney Arnold.

The opioid epidemic continues to haunt America. Collusion between politicians and pharmaceutical companies has caused opioid deaths to spike in the U.S. Over 70,000 overdose deaths occurred in 2017. The number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was six times higher than in 1999. In Illinois alone, more than 1,900 people died from opioid overdose in 2016, an 82 percent increase from 2013.

Although it’s encouraging that lawmakers are finally acknowledging the massive evidence regarding the benefits of cannabis, and its remarkable efficacy in weaning people from opioid use, Illinois’ program is somewhat complicated. Those who apply must have a physician certification, a passport-like photo, copy of driver’s license/state ID, proof of Illinois address and $10 payment. Doctors are required to complete the certification via the Illinois Cannabis Tracking System. Then applicants will open an online account at a local health department or at a registered dispensary.

The state’s current medical cannabis program is also unduly restrictive which recognizes the most debilitating ailments only: ALS, cancer, Crohn’s Disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, MS, spinal disease and injuries and several other debilitating conditions. If a patient qualifies in that regard, they also need a physician certification, a passport photo, proof of residency, proof of age and identity and fingerprint consent form to be submitted to the state’s Department of Public Health, along with a $100 one-year application fee. 

Contrast the experience of a consumer accessing cannabis for alleviation of suffering to that of any consumer who patronizes a pharmacy for medicine. Illinois’ laws demonstrate how far legalization must evolve in order that patients can access medicine without the heavy hand of government bureaucracy—and without the stigma that the cannabis industry continues to endure.

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