Legislature approves bill to make medical marijuana alternative to opioids

Illinois lawmakers have approved legislation that would give people who have been prescribed opioids the option to use medical cannabis to treat their pain.

Senate Bill 336, dubbed the Alternatives to Opioids Act, was fully approved last week by the state legislature and sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk for signage. Rauner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the legislation.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sponsored the measure after hearing testimony last spring from medical cannabis patients who reported experiencing fewer side effects than they had while taking opioids to treat their pain symptoms. 

State Sen. Don Harmon speaks at the Reader’s Medical Cannabis 101 event on April 9, 2018 at mHUB in West Town. | Marina Labarth del Solar/Sun-Times

The bill would expand the state’s medical cannabis pilot program to give people who have been prescribed opioids the opportunity to obtain a medical cannabis card instead. The measure would also eliminate requirements for patients to submit to background checks and be fingerprinted.

New research appears to show that the use of medical cannabis can result in lower rates of opioid prescriptions.

States with legal medical cannabis programs — including Illinois, which has a medical cannabis “pilot program” — had more than 2 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed each year under Medicare Part D than in states that hadn’t enacted similar laws, according to a pair of studies published in April in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The studies also found that prescriptions for all opioids dipped by 3.7 million daily doses per year when medical cannabis dispensaries opened.

Senators introduce bipartisan bill to protect state pot laws

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D- Mass., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., unveiled a bill Thursday that would let states decide how to regulate marijuana without federal interference.

“It’s time to reform American’s outdated marijuana policies,” Warren tweeted alongside a video of her and Gardner announcing the measure. Both Warren and Gardner represent states with legal marijuana laws on the books.

The bill, known as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would amend the Controlled Substances Act by outlining that its provisions don’t apply to state, territory or tribal marijuana laws, according to a statement from Warren.

“We’re taking action to protect the millions of Americans who access medical marijuana under state law,” Warren said during the press conference. “We’re taking action to protect businesses that need access to basic banking services. And we’re taking action to address the systematic discrimination in our criminal justice system that has ruined the lives of African Americans for generations for something as small as a joint of marijuana.”

The measure is being sponsored by Reps. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., in the House.

Colorado governor vetoes marijuana ‘tasting rooms’ proposal

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill Monday to allow pot retailers to set up “tasting rooms,” dashing hopes that the state would be the first to adopt a system letting consumers use marijuana in public spaces.

Hickenlooper objected to similar bills in the past, arguing it could prompt a federal crackdown. In a letter explaining the veto, Hickelooper stressed the bill could have resulted in more impaired drivers on Colorado’s roads and other public health risks.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (left), speaks with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the National Governor Association winter meeting on Feb. 25, 2018 in Washington. | Jose Luis Magana/AP photo

“We may agree with the proponents’ goals to protect the public and children; however, we strongly disagree that this bill is the correct path to achieve those goals,” he wrote.

This year’s proposal dramatically scaled back some advocates’ ambitions for stand-alone businesses reminiscent of a neighborhood bar or an upscale club where marijuana products would replace alcohol. The bill did not allow smoking of marijuana in the establishments and also let local municipalities decide whether to allow the so-called “tasting rooms.”

Canada poised to approve legal marijuana sales

Canada’s government is poised to approve sweeping cannabis legalization as soon as this week and could launch marijuana sales by late summer.

The appointed Canadian Senate is expected to give the OK to legalization measure Thursday following years of quiet study and discussion. Once approved by the House, which has already passed a version of the plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government expects to launch legal sales as soon as 10 to 12 weeks from now.

President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pose for a photo as Trudeau arrives at the White House on Oct. 11, 2017. | AP file photo

Canada’s approach differs dramatically from that taken in the United States, which has seen nine states and the District of Columbia legalize cannabis but has so far avoided a substantive national discussion about the widely used drug.

As part of legalization, the Canadian government will also likely inform citizens that admitting to marijuana use might get them barred from crossing the border into the U.S., which still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration defines Schedule 1 drugs as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

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