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Nature's Treatment of Illinois

Quad-City businessman Matt Stern, owner of Nature's Treatment of Illinois, a medical marijuana dispensary in Milan, applied for one of Iowa's five cannabidiol dispensary licenses. If he wins a license, he hopes to build Nature's Treatment of Iowa in Eldridge.

Lackluster profits among legal marijuana growers is no reason to expand pot laws in Illinois.

There are much better reasons.

Retail sales of medical cannabis in Illinois reached about $9.3 million in December, the Chicago Tribune reported. Operators say the count is low, and that's because of too many constraints on the law.

But those in the state-sanctioned marijuana business knew they were taking risks when they stepped in. In Illinois, after all, medical marijuana's status is that of a pilot program, set to expire in a couple of short years.

Even those who are in the business, however, agree that profit isn't the point of pot.

"Let's not make it about money. Let's make it about quality of life," said Matt Stern, owner of the Quad-Cities' only retail dispensary, Nature's Treatment of Illinois, in Milan. "Let's make it about saving lives."

Saving lives with medically permitted weed? Stern is not overstating the case.

"There's no doubt: In every state they've loosened up marijuana laws, opioid use has decreased," he said. "I have a customer who is a quadriplegic who was taking eight medications, including narcotics for pain. He now takes zero."

Stern is among the growing list of state operators who want to see medical pot laws extended to those who suffer from chronic pain, because marijuana often is effective at treating the same types of pain that compels doctors to prescribe opiates. And evidence shows an increasing number of sufferers are choosing pot over pills.

Research published in the American Journal for Public Health showed that marijuana legalization in Colorado led to a "reversal” of opiate overdose deaths in that state. This is a meaningful development on the entire public-health front, because of the opioid crisis and the fact marijuana carries essentially no risk of a fatal overdose.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid."

And many of the illegal-drug overdoses are the result of an addiction that started with prescription drugs.

Illinois law currently does not permit medical cannabis access for chronic pain, but a listening legislature surely will be agreeable to adding it. And legislators have the opportunity under a plan that would grant patients who qualify for prescription opioids access to medical pot.

Profit is not good grounds for public policy that relates to public health, no matter who is profiting. And Stern said profit is precisely the thing that keeps Illinois in the business of banning a drug that has proven to provide much safer relief to citizens who suffer.

Not only are some doctors under pressure from pharmaceutical companies to write more prescriptions, he said, but too many lawmakers succumb to big financial support they get from the pharmaceutical lobby. And that power goes all the way to the top.

Stern said the recent announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions about cracking down on states that have decriminalized pot is "just big money" talking.

Sessions and many other Republicans, including the president, vigorously defend states' rights on most counts, so going after their autonomy on pot laws is rightly drawing skepticism. And it's even more suspect considering the president's declaration that the opioid crisis is a national public health emergency.

As the smoke continues to clear, it is becoming more evident that marijuana is safer than narcotics in the treatment of chronic pain, among other afflictions. If money has to be a factor, let it be in the new state taxes that result from a demonstrably life-saving extension of a well-meaning, well-regulated law.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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