Illinois Senate approves bill to legalize medical marijuana

Illinois has come within a signature of becoming the 19th state to allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

On Friday, the state Senate voted 35-21 to approve a medical marijuana measure, which now will head for Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk. The governor has not said whether he will sign it.

Democratic Sen. Bill Haine, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the Los Angeles Times that House Bill 1 has a very narrow scope and was crafted with law enforcement officials at the table to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls of medical marijuana programs in other states.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes. California did so in 1996, when the state’s voters approved Proposition 215.

If it becomes law, the Illinois bill will prohibit patients from growing their own pot; instead, plants will be raised at “grow centers” overseen by authorities and the state Department of Agriculture.

Only doctors that have established relationships with patients will be able to dispense the drug to help with pain or side effects associated with treating serious illnesses, such as AIDS or cancer.

“It can’t be consumed in public. It can’t be displayed in public,” Haine said.

The bill would allow medical marijuana use for just four years, essentially creating a pilot program on the drug's use. If it’s not renewed by the state’s General Assembly, the medical pot effort will die.

A former chief prosecutor for Madison County in southwestern Illinois, Haine said he pushed for the legislation because he believes marijuana, despite its reputation, can do good.

“People have found that this substance relieves pain for people in terrible circumstances. To deny that would be unreasonable,” Haines said. “Marijuana is arguably more benign than Oxycontin … or many of the other prescription drugs.”

Nonetheless, the legislation was opposed by the Illinois Sheriffs’ Assn. and the Illinois Assn. of Chiefs of Police.

Then there’s the fact that any sort of marijuana use is outlawed by federal statues.

Haine isn’t worried.

“My old friend and colleague, the president of the United States, has said if it’s truly … for medical use, it’s not going to attract the attention of the federal government,” the senator said. “We’re going to show the federal government that this is a model.”

David Blanchette, spokesman for Quinn, said the Democratic governor wants to examine the bill closely before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

“In the past, he has said he has an open mind” to the issue, Blanchette told The Times.

The governor has 60 days from the time the bill hits his desk to take action on the bill. The legislation is likely to reach the governor sometime next week, Blanchette said.

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