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Green Medicine

State expansion of medical cannabis program could benefit local dispensaries

MORRIS – With the signing of Senate Bill 2777 in August, Illinois expanded its medical cannabis pilot program.

Under the legislation, which amended the Illinois Controlled Substance Act, if someone receives a prescription for opioid-based painkillers, they will be able to use it to receive medical cannabis.

However, how that looks and what that means for area patients and medical cannabis dispensaries remains uncertain.

Rick Niksic of Greenhouse said the only thing that has gone into effect immediately is that patients applying for a card no longer need to go through a background check or be fingerprinted.

“We’ve already started getting calls,” Niksic said.

The bill was signed Aug. 28 after the Illinois Senate voted, 56-0, in favor, and the House voted, 105-0, in favor.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been vocal about his opposition to medical cannabis, but signed the bill.

“I think he did the right thing,” Niksic said. “We’re thrilled it passed. Now people can take advantage of the positive effects we’ve seen.”

Rauner said the bill was a step in the fight against the opioid crisis.

“We’re fighting this opioid crisis every day,” Rauner said. “It’s impacted too many families here in Illinois. We’ve given people who struggle with substance use more opportunities to get the help they need. ... There’s a standing order for using opioid-reversing naloxone. We’ve boosted reporting requirements to our prescription monitoring program to halt ‘doctor-shopping.’ ”

However, the effects won’t immediately be felt. Niksic said that there is a December deadline for putting the plan in place, and what it will mean remains anybody’s guess.

For instance, patients right now can apply for a medical cannabis card if they have one of 28 debilitating conditions.

It is unclear whether patients getting cannabis to treat pain in place of opiates also will get a card or if a different procedure will be in place.

Questions about how long they’d be able to access dispensaries or how prescriptions equate have yet to be addressed. And it could take time. Niksic said the department in the Illinois Department of Public Health that oversees the medical cannabis program is understaffed.

People remain curious, however. Heidi Crowl, manager for the Greenhouse in Morris, said that last week her location had 20 more patients sign up.

“It makes me happy so many people want to do something more natural,” she said.

She said the effect of no longer having to fingerprint patients, however, is saving patients between $60 and
$75 right away.

An estimated 11 million Americans have misused opioids in the past year, about 1.9 million Americans are addicted to opioids, and 4 out of
5 heroin users started out on prescription opioids, according to the governor’s office.

The IDPH website has a message up asking patients to not submit forms for the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program at this time and to not submit for the registry unless applying for the current Medical Cannabis Registry Program.

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