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Local Editorials

THUMBS UP: State policy shift could help mitigate opioid crisis

THUMBS UP TO… a shifting strategy. Our recent reporting on the short- and long-term prospects for Ottawa’s PharmaCannis focused heavily on the expected positive business impact on the pending expansion of the list of conditions that qualify patients to receive prescriptions for medical marijuana. And while it’s great to learn a local business expects to double its customer base in a relatively short period, we’re also looking at the issue broadly from a public health perspective.

In August, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a proposal allowing medical marijuana in place of prescription painkillers, as opposed to limiting its use to about 40 conditions. Given the widespread understanding of how painkillers contribute to an ongoing national opioid epidemic, it’s staggering to think about the potential for a positive effect if people are able to treat their pain with a different substance. Even people who didn’t experience addiction to painkillers have reported preferring marijuana because it affects the brain differently than conventional opioids.

The state’s medical marijuana program has been slower to roll out than many expected, but caution was always wise and we think taking this next step will have tremendous upside.

THUMBS DOWN TO… Hill hypocrisy. Last week U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, accused The Washington Post of “taking my words out of context to spin some outrage clickbait,” adding a Post tweet was “just pathetic and desperate.” Yet a reasonable reading of the piece in question, opinion writing from Cleve R. Wootson Jr., reveals Kinzinger’s tweet expressing outrage to lack its own context.

At issue are comments Kinzinger made during an MSNBC interview about the need for a border wall. Wootson’s essay opened by noting he was questioning only “the final moments” of Kinzinger’s appearance and, in the online version, contained a link to the complete 10-minute segment. The entire point of the essay was that the bulk of Kinzinger’s appearance, which Wootson said positively focused on “the need for Republicans and Democrats to communicate better about the partial government shutdown and the fraught issue of immigration,” was possibly tainted by his closing remarks that the walls around his house “keep bad people out and critters out.”

We agree a Post tweet suggesting that quote is Kinzginer’s entire case for a border wall didn’t paint a full picture — on Twitter, what does? — but it linked to a reasoned analysis with sufficient context to let readers draw their own conclusions. Professional scrutiny of a televised interview is well within the bounds of civil discourse, even if you disagree with the underlying assertion.

THUMBS UP TO… checking out. After far too long, Illinois now is finally formally out of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. Crosscheck, originating in Kansas, was good in principle but flawed in execution, and voters are better off with the withdrawal complete. The idea was to share data between states to make sure voters aren’t registered in multiple jurisdictions. The problem was the data shared included Social Security numbers and many experts raised concerns about outdated encryption technology. Even worse, some voter information was simply emailed from one state to another.

We’ve long said it’s good enough for Illinois to participate in the 26-state Electronic Registration Information Center, which relies on driver license information but not SSNs. Lawmakers felt as much last year when they voted to pull out of CrossCheck — after the Illinois State Board of Elections split along party lines — but Rauner vetoed the bill and an override fell one vote short. Now the ISBE voted 8-0 in favor of withdrawal, and hopefully that signals a new era of prudence when it comes to personal information in the government’s hands.

THUMBS DOWN TO… a dramatic drop-off. Last week Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman went public with her plan to have 18,000 students enrolled by the fall of 2023. That’s an admirable goal, but it’s a stark difference from a student body approaching 25,000 enrolled in the 2007-2008 year — 23,000 living on campus — just before a major recession swept across the country. The trend has been downward ever since and now sits at a bit more than 17,000.

NIU is the biggest employer in DeKalb County, and this steep drop has direct and far-reaching impacts on the local economy. In addition to the national economy, the inexcusable state budget situation of the last decade has been brutal on higher education. We think Freeman is on the right track with plans to diversify the student body, increase online enrollment and tailor programs to meet students who speak Spanish as a primary language, and sincerely hope the current low is the stopping point before the trend heads in a better direction.

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