CHICAGO (CN) – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill Tuesday that will allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana as a replacement for opioid painkillers.
Under the new law called the Alternatives to Opioids Act, doctors now have the ability to authorize medical marijuana for any patient who has or would qualify for opioids such as OxyContin, Percocet or Fentanyl.
Governor Rauner called Senate Bill 336 a “new weapon against opioid abuse,” in a series of tweets Tuesday.
“With enactment of SB 336, we are the first state to give medical prescribers a way to help adult patients manage their pain without compromising their safety or Illinois’ marijuana program standards,” the governor tweeted.
The bill was signed into law at the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit devoted to distributing clean needles and other programs to prevent deaths from heroin overdose.
The change comes as a response to the opioid overdose epidemic, which killed almost 2,000 Illinoisans in 2016, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
Last year, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Pain Research found that medical cannabis users in Michigan experienced “an improvement in quality of life, better side effect profile, and decreased opioid use.”
The new Illinois law amends the state’s 2014 Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act by lifting restrictions under the Medical Cannabis Patient Registry Program.
Qualified applicants or designated caregivers will no longer be fingerprinted or subjected to criminal background checks. In addition, those who apply online with a doctor’s authorization will receive “provisional registration” to purchase medical cannabis while awaiting state officials’ final approval.
The Department of Public Health is in charge of implementing an Opioid Alternative Pilot Program and an Illinois Cannabis Tracking System to collect information about the program and medical marijuana sales.
Illinois is one of 31 states with a medical marijuana program.