Medical marijuana expansion bill to be released

By Hannah Meisel

* The State Journal-Register is reporting that Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) will soon release SB 336, a medical marijuana expansion bill, to Gov. Rauner. The bill is aimed at reducing reliance on opioids and instead prescribing certain patients with chronic pain medical marijuana instead.

The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support and supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate, soon will be sent to the Republican governor’s desk, said Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sponsor of Senate Bill 336.

Medical marijuana may not help every pain patient avoid an opioid addiction that can lead to misuse of legal prescription drugs or illegal drugs such as heroin, Harmon said.

But he said allowing people who have been or could be prescribed an opioid to instead use marijuana is worth a try, based on anecdotal reports and studies that show a reduction in opioid-related fatalities and opioid prescriptions in states that allow the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.

“I’m not saying there’s no need for opioids,” Harmon said last week. “But we’d like to give people an off ramp. People die from opioid overdoses. They don’t die from cannabis overdoses. I’ll take that tradeoff any day.”

If approved, the legislation could increase enrollment in the program — currently serving about 38,000 patients — by eightfold or more, based on estimates.

It’s unclear what Rauner thinks of the bill. A Rauner spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Harmon said Rauner is “not a fan” of the medical marijuana pilot program, which was set in motion under Rauner’s predecessor, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat.

Rauner’s administration is opposing a legal effort to add “intractable pain” to the state’s list of about 40 qualifying conditions for people wanting to enroll in the medical cannabis

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