Medical cannabis for short-term pain is questionable, some GOP lawmakers insist
A bill allowing for temporary access to medical cannabis to battle the opioid epidemic is in the hands of the governor.
After SB 336, which was sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), passed through the Senate and House successfully, Gov. Bruce Rauner is now left to consider if patients in short-term pain should be permitted to use physician-prescribed cannabis rather than synthetic pain medication, which has been proven to be addictive even after just days of use.
“There are currently enough opioids prescribed in Cook County to kill every man, woman and child in the county,” Cassidy said during the May 31 House floor debate. “This isn’t the permanent fix. This isn’t the total fix. This is a step toward doing this better.”
Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) brought up the partisan roll-call in committee, and Cassidy said the stats are due to a matter of efficiency in the committee hearing.
“We have strong bipartisan support in both chambers,” Cassidy said, adding that it passed in the Senate with 44 votes. “And we have nearly a dozen Republican co-sponsors on this bill.”
After thanking her for her time, Breen said he looked forward to the rest of the debate, which he handed over to Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield), who noted the scourge of the opioid epidemic in rural areas of the state.
“This has become a serious problem for all of us who represent downstate,” Butler said. “And I think this is a great answer to help us combat the opioid crisis.”
However, Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) didn’t share the same love for the program. Though Ives said she did not doubt the sheer volume of the widespread drug problem, she did have concerns about the pilot program becoming a permanent fixture.
“Since we approved medical cannabis in 2013, which at that point was supposed to be a pilot program, every year since we have approved it," Ives said. "We have picked up another cause and reason to have somebody get medical cannabis."
After Breen yielded Ives a few more minutes to prove her point, she said SB 336 would be the largest expansion of medical cannabis in a program that was initially supposed to be temporary. She added that last year when lawmakers removed the provision that advised what ailments could be treated by medical cannabis.
“So there is only a panel that decides whether or not it is medically good,” Ives said, adding that lawmakers should hold off until more movement on medical cannabis is made on a federal level and find out doctors’ point of view on short-term use.
“Let’s not allow a massive expansion of medical cannabis for any type of pain just because we have an opioid problem,” Ives said.
Rep. Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale) had concerns that the legislation lacks mandated criminal background checks.
“Cancer doesn’t care if you have a criminal history before it affects your body,” Cassidy countered.
For the bill, Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee) said there are numerous studies that show states with medical cannabis have less opioid overdoses.
“We have looked at the stats in Medicare Part D,” Skillicorn said, adding that there is a bittersweet flip side to the program that will save lives and money. “But I am still critical of how Illinois licenses these products.”
Cassidy said that although recent news reports note that the Illinois program may be faulty, the state is actually a model for the rest of the country. Concluding the debate, Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) thanked Cassidy for her work on the bill and asked if a physician has a choice to participate in the pilot program.
“A doctor that does not believe this is appropriate treatment does not have to provide access,” Cassidy said.
SB 336 passed the House 72-38, and the Senate concurred 44-3.