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Medicinal Marijuana Bill Finds Support in Illinois

Lisa has smoked marijuana since 1998 to relieve pain from osteoporosis and two knee replacement surgeries. The suburban mother of two grown children knows that smoking pot is illegal in Illinois, but she says the benefits are worth the risk.

“I have a terrible medical history, and smoking cannabis for medical purpose improved my lifestyle by 80 percent,” said the 54-year-old, who did not want to be fully identified for fear of being arrested.

Lisa’s situation could change soon if the Illinois General Assembly passes a measure that would allow for the medical use of marijuana, joining a dozen other states with similar law already on the books.

The bill, called the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Act, is sponsored by Sen. William Haine (D-Alton).

The Illinois Senate approved the measure last spring with a close 30-28 vote, and it cleared the House Rules Committee at the end of January. The bill is now on the calendar for a final debate before voting.

Gov. Pat Quinn said earlier this year that he supports the use of medical marijuana.

Under Senate Bill 1381, Illinoisans would be allowed to have six cannabis plants, no more than three of which can be mature, during a 60-day period. The original bill set a limit of seven plants.

It would also establish a patient registry to control cannabis distribution. Patients or caregivers who distribute marijuana to someone who is not allowed to use it for medical purposes could face a $2,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

With the new law, Lisa said she would live in peace of mind and have a better control about the pot she purchases.

“Right now, I have to be really careful because I do not know the quality or where the product I am inhaling came from,” said Lisa. “With the new law, I could make sure to get an organic product and not chemical.”

The Illinois Family Institute, a group that promotes the protection of traditional family values, argues that cannabis should not be legalized for any medical reason.

“We believe that kids and teenagers could think that cannabis is like a pill for relaxing, and Illinois would have a higher rate of young users,” said Kathy Valente, director of operations of the group. She said she based her statement on a study from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

Valente said THC, a substance in marijuana, is already present in many medications, and people should use those instead of an illegal drug.

The Illinois State Medical Society also opposes the bill.

“We are against the use of cannabis for medical purposes because there is no scientific evidence that it could be good for patients,” said the society’s president-elect, Steven Malkin.

Malkin said there are many anecdotes about the use of marijuana, but smoking and inhaling any substance is not healthy and not the right way to administer treatment.

Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois Cannabis Patients Association, disagrees.

“The patients and the doctors should decide what is  best, and the law should not be influenced by other people,” he said.

Linn said he worked with Sen. Haine to write the bill.

“We made a lot of concessions, and we are now confident that the bill will be adopted,” Linn said. “We are still contacting state lawmakers to make sure they understand the bill, but we should have the 60 votes needed.”

Linn said one major change was that the proposed bill is a pilot project, meaning that lawmakers would have to enact a permanent law in a couple years.

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