CHICAGO (CBS)–Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner Tuesday signed a bill allowing medical marijuana to be prescribed as an alternative for opioid prescriptions.
By making medical cannabis available as an opioid replacement, the measure could expand access to medical marijuana and make the application process easier.
Senate Bill 336, the Alternative to Opioids Act, was signed into law Aug. 28. The Illinois Policy Institute reports the legislation comes amid a nationwide struggle with fatal opioid overdoses, which took 72,000 lives last year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Almost 2,000 people in the state of Illinois died in 2016 from narcotics overdoses.
The change in the law becomes effective right away, giving physicians the authority to issue medical marijuana prescriptions to any patient who would qualify for a condition typically treated with opioid painkillers like Vicodin, Oxycontin or Percocet and other narcotics.
The measure lifts some of the state’s major restrictions on applying for a medical marijuana license in Illinois.
Applicants will no longer have to provide fingerprints and undergo background checks to get a prescription for medical marijuana. The Chicago Tribune reports that people being prescribed medical marijuana can now complete an online application with a doctor’s authorization to get a provisional registration to buy medical cannabis while they wait for the state to make a final review.
Rauner signed the bill Tuesday at the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit that distributes clean needles and overdose-reversing naloxone to help prevent heroin overdose deaths.
The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois released a statement Tuesday supporting the legislation.
“Today, Illinois has taken an important step forward in health care policy,” the statement says. “With the signing of Senate Bill 336 into law, we are helping address the scourge of prescription opioid abuse that costs thousands their lives in Illinois, and giving many Illinoisans the real relief they need through Illinois’ medical cannabis program.”