Zoë Rosenbaum used cannabis to overcome an addiction to opioids that stemmed from serious injuries she suffered when she was ejected from a Volkswagen Passat during a rollover crash in 2008.

Rosenbaum believes it’s “crucially important” to give people who have been prescribed opioids the option to use medical marijuana, adding that “there should be more options for pain management.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner did just that Tuesday when he signed the Alternative to Opioids Act, a move that could significantly expand the state’s medical cannabis pilot program.

“There is still such a stigma regarding cannabis and I believe that people’s views would change if they experienced the benefits firsthand, especially in light of the opioid addiction rate and the alarming number of deaths,” said Rosenbaum, a medical cannabis patient and graduate student at the University School of Professional Psychology.

Zoë Rosenbaum | Provided photo

Starting in December, opioid patients will be able to obtain a temporary medical cannabis card that will remain valid for up to 60 days. A doctor can then extend a patient’s access beyond that point.

It’s unclear how many new medical cannabis patients will be added under the law. However, more than 5 million opioid prescriptions were doled out to over 2 million Illinoisans last year, according to Jack Campbell, director of the state’s medical cannabis program.

In order to buy pot at Illinois dispensaries, patients with one of 41 qualifying conditions, including cancer and HIV/AIDS, must currently receive certification from a doctor and apply for an identification card through the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs the Alternatives to Opioids Act Tuesday at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. | Lisa Mann for Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs the Alternatives to Opioids Act Tuesday at the Chicago Recovery Alliance. | Lisa Mann for Sun-Times

The new law aims to expedite the clunky process, which has resulted in a large backlog of applicants.

Qualifying patients and those with an opioid prescription will soon be able to buy cannabis products with only a doctor’s recommendation while their applications are being processed. In addition, new applicants will no longer have to submit to fingerprinting or background checks, a change that will go into effect immediately.

Cannabis activists and some of the state’s top pot companies cheered the bill’s approval on Tuesday.

“This new law provides access to medical cannabis as a non-lethal form of pain relief to millions of patients across Illinois and it’s a big step in truly recognizing cannabis as medicine,” said Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, Illinois’ largest medical pot producer.

Cresco Labs will launch a multi-state anti-opioid campaign Wednesday morning at the Thompson Center to highlight ways cannabis can help combat the opioid epidemic.

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