MORRIS – As the country continues to grapple with the opioid crisis, Illinois has implemented a program designed to help counteract the start of it. On Feb. 1, Illinois launched the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program which would allow a patient prescribed opioid painkillers to receive a medical cannabis instead.
Local dispensaries are encouraged by the program.
"Illinois really stepped up," Rick Niksic with Greenhouse said. Greenhouse operates four dispensaries in Illinois, including Morris and Mokena. "They recognizes that medical cannabis is a safe alternative to a lot of dangerous drugs out there and have opened it up to a lot more people."
Similarly to how the medical cannabis program has worked in Illinois so far, a patient who has been prescribed an opioid-based pain killer needs to see their physician as the first step.
"The patient’s physician must complete a certification using the Illinois Cannabis Tracking System," according to a press release from the Illinois Department of Public Health. "After the physician certification, patients will create a user account to register online, at a licensed medical cannabis dispensary, or at a local health department that offers assistance.
"Along with the physician certification, a passport-like photo, copy of driver’s license/state ID, proof of Illinois address, and $10 payment are required," the press release continued. "Once all the required information is uploaded into the system and the payment is submitted, the individual will receive an electronic medical cannabis registry card."
The first e-card is good for 90-days and need a physician to re-certify that the patients should continue using the medical cannabis card.
Greenhouse dispensaries have been taking part in numerous education opportunities, Niksic said, including webinars provided by the state and meeting with local physicians to discuss the program.
In Ottawa, a dispensary operated by PharmaCannis is preparing to help sign up patients at the location. Mike Richards, a sales channel manager with Pharmacannis, said they are preparing computers for clients to be able to sign up for the program.
In the previous pilot program, it could take between 60-90 days for a patients to be able to get a medical cannabis card after a doctor has certified they have one of the conditions supported in Illinois.
Richards said the new program has that turnaround time to as little as a day. He said the company has also seen a lot more buy-in from local physicians into the effectiveness of medical cannabis.
"Patients stories have changed the perceptions doctors have," Richards said "Doctors have started to see what the results are and patients have been an integral part of that."
Morris Police Chief John Severson said he doesn't see the expanded medical cannabis law as a challenge, but the real concern will be if recreational marijuana is made legal.
"There's nothing positive," Severson said. "I'm concerned we don't learn from our history. Lots of representatives see it as a cash cow ... The downsides all outweigh the tax gains."
He said studies in states that have recreational marijuana have shown that all of the negatives associated with it increase following legalization, including a 400 percent increase in impaired driving in Colorado.
He sees the use of medical cannabis as a way to combat the opioid crisis as a step forward, however.
"I will agree, medically it does have a purpose. I've seen and heard evidence for that," Severson said. "But total legalization is not beneficial to society."
More information on the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program can be found at http://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/prevention-wellness/medical-cannabis/opioid-alternative-pilot-program.