Illinois Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) wants to ensure that cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis patients will be able to safely use medical marijuana for pain alleviation without police or Drug Enforcement Administration agents raiding their homes.
The Illinois Senate Public Health Committee will consider House Bill 650, sponsored by Sen. Cullerton, March 6 in Springfield.
The bill proposes that the Illinois Department of Public Health issue registry identification cards to patients who have been diagnosed by a physician to have a “debilitating medical condition,“ such as cancer, permitting patients to legally possess no more than 12 cannabis plants and 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis.
Under current law, the Cannabis Control Act allows a patient permission to use marijuana after receiving instruction from a physician. Then, the patient must submit an application to the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services to obtain approval for using marijuana. Without both credentials, using marijuana medicinally is illegal.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, there were 44,178 arrests in Illinois in conjunction with the Cannabis Control act in 2006.
Critics of the process claim many patients never get complete, legal sanction.
“In Illinois, most patients are denied approval by the Department of Health and Human Services but have been advised by their doctors to use cannabis because of its powers to alleviate pain,“ said Dianna Brickner, director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Law. “It’s like getting a prescription you can’t fill.”
If passed, the new law would automatically supply patients with a registry card after becoming diagnosed by a physician and would eliminate criminal penalties for patients who use marijuana for medical purposes. Illinois would become the 12th state to protect patients from criminalization of utilizing marijuana for medical purposes.
Marijuana has several medicinal purposes and has been used for medical purposes dating back to 2000 B.C. when Egyptians used cannabis to treat sore eyes. The plant can give relief to cancer patients who experience nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. Multiple sclerosis patients are relieved of muscle spasms and pain.
Sandra Irwin, 60, of Loves Park, has considered marijuana as an alternative to her regular medication.
“I’ve had lung cancer for two years, and for two years I have been on OxyContin to help with the chemotherapy. The pills don’t work anymore, my body built up a tolerance to them but they just keep prescribing me more,” said Irwin.
“I’m a religious woman and have always held an ethical position that drugs are dangerous, but if it can reduce my pill dependency, I’d look into it,” said Irwin.
Sen. Cullerton introduced a similar bill last March. It passed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in a 6-5 vote. However, the bill failed to pass before the end of the regular session.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a national lobbyist group, has reason to believe that the bill may be successful this time around.
“It’s not so much that there was fierce opposition from other legislators last time, the bill just fell victim to politics,” said Nathan Miller, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“Our lobbyist who worked with Cullerton said it took a backseat to other bills because other legislators did not see it as an immediate need. It just wasn‘t their top priority at the time,” said Miller.
George Pappas, coordinator at Illinois Drug Education and Legislative Reform, argues that it may not be a priority for those in government, but it is a priority for patients.
“This is an urgent issue,” said Pappas. “There are patients using cannabis illegally throughout the state, and we need to give them protection.”
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