SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois Senate voted Friday to approve a bill that would allow Illinois residents with serious illnesses to use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it.
The full Senate voted 35-21 to approve the measure, which received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17 and now heads to the Governor’s desk for approval.
If Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signs the bill, Illinois will become the 19th or 20th state to legalize medical marijuana in some capacity.
The Illinois bill passed by a vote of 35-21 after an emotional, hour-long debate in which some Republicans said they opposed legalizing medical marijuana, claiming the now debunked “gateway drug” theory, while others said they were not convinced that the benefits of smoking marijuana for certain medical conditions outweighed the potential negative consequences.
Democratic State Senator Bill Haine, a former county prosecutor and co-sponsor of the bill, said it is the toughest medical marijuana law in the nation, adding that several doctors’ groups had endorsed the bill.
“It is a substance which is much more benign than powerful prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and the rest,” Haine said, referring to frequently abused opiate based painkillers. “The scourge of these drugs is well-known. This is not true of the medical use of marijuana.”
If the Illinois bill becomes law, as many as 60 retail establishments will be licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients with cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses. Gov. Quinn has made positive comments about allowing medical marijuana in the state, but has not yet indicated if he would sign the bill or not.
House Bill 1, sponsored in the Senate by former state’s attorney Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), would allow people suffering from specific medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.
Qualified patients would be able to obtain marijuana from one of up to 60 dispensaries, which would acquire marijuana from up to 22 cultivation centers. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation would regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.
Under the four-year pilot program outlined in the Illinois bill, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of 33 debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS in order to qualify for medical marijuana. Patients must register with the state’s health department and have written certification from their physicians.
Patients will be limited to 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of marijuana every two weeks. The marijuana must be grown in Illinois, kept in a closed container, and not used in public or in front of minors.
Those who use, grow or sell medical marijuana must be fingerprinted and undergo background checks during the application process. Patients suspected of driving under the influence face the loss of not only their driving privileges, but also their medical marijuana cards.
Rev. Alexander Sharp, executive director emeritus of Protestants for the Common Good, former narcotics police officer Karen Stone, Mt. Vernon-based physician Dr. David Walters, and a Somonauk-based military veteran with advanced multiple sclerosis testified in support of the bill at committee hearings earlier this month.
The bill has also been endorsed by the Illinois Nurses Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. Since last month, more than 265 doctors from across the state have signed on to a statement in support of safe access to medical marijuana for patients with serious illnesses.
“If marijuana can provide relief to those suffering from terrible illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS, it is unconscionable to criminalize them for using it,” Rev. Sharp said. “I am proud to see our state’s elected officials are moving forward with this compassionate and much-needed legislation. It’s the right thing to do.”
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. Similar legislation has been introduced in 16 additional states this year, and it is anticipated in one more state.