By Meredith Colias
Chronically ill residents would have another option to relieve long-term pain under a plan to legalize medical marijuana, which an Illinois House committee approved today.
The committee approved House Bill 1 on a 11-4 vote.
The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, cited the18 other states, plus Washington, D.C., that already legalize marijuana for medical use in some form.
“We can help sick people have a quality of life,” he said.
Lang said it was important that there were specific restrictions to the measure to limit participation to those with an actual medical need with “continual pain, nausea and discomfort.”
Patients older than 18 afflicted with chronic or terminal ailments specifically listed in the bill, such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV/AIDS, would qualify to apply for a medical cannabis card issued by the Department of Public Health.
Patients issued permits would be limited to possessing 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
Opponents said the measure would set a bad example for children. “The law’s a teacher,” Ralph Rivera of the Illinois Family Institute said. He cited a study showing marijuana usage for those 25 and younger increased in states such as Colorado that previously legalized medicinal usage. If the measure becomes law, “the students, the children [will] think it’s OK.” Colorado voters recently approved a measure to legalize the possession of marijuana for recreational use.
Limey Nargelenas, a lobbyist with the Illinois Association of Police, said he was concerned that those who would be approved to use medical marijuana would be allowed to drive under the influence, giving them a “back door to get out of the situation.”
But Lang said the law was not meant to open the door for those who smoke marijuana recreationally, who he says will smoke regardless of the law. “We know teenagers are going to smoke marijuana whether we pass this bill or not,” he said.
Lang said patients would also have to pass background checks, verify they are ill and demonstrate that other possible medical solutions had been tried. Licensed patients would have to prove that they are regularly seeing the doctor who prescribed medical marijuana. Caregivers and state employees overseeing growing and dispensary operations also would be required to pass a background test. Lang said the law would not spare legally impaired drivers: If caught, “the legal system will take its course.” He said that he thinks the committee’s approval of the legislation will help him as he lobbies for votes to pass the bill out of the House. Lang called bills to legalize medical marijuana for three floor votes in the House in 2011. All three times, the measures failed. “I think it will be easier to find the votes on the floor once it’s out of committee. Many members of the floor will say, let me know when it’s out of committee, and then I’ll commit to you,” Lang said before today’s committee vote.