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House OKs medical pot

Area lawmakers divided on approval of measure

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2013 2:38 p.m. CDT
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Gov. Pat Quinn speaks to reporters in his office at the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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Tom Demmer
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Mike Smiddy

SPRINGFIELD – Sauk Valley lawmakers were divided Wednesday when the Illinois House approved a bill to allow medical marijuana.

The legislation would allow patients with specific terminal illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS, to obtain marijuana for medical purposes upon their doctors’ recommendation.

In a 61-57 vote, the House approved the measure, which now goes to the Senate. Gov. Pat Quinn said he is “open-minded” on the issue.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, who represents Whiteside County, voted for the bill, while Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, was against it.

“I think the evidence is overwhelming showing it does help individuals,” Smiddy said in a telephone interview from the House floor. “It will be the strictest law in the nation for medical marijuana. If doctors feel the drug is needed for someone, they should have the opportunity to prescribe it to ease patients’ suffering.”

Demmer said the issue should go before the federal Food and Drug Administration, not the Legislature.

“We don’t vote on other medicinal substances in the General Assembly,” Demmer said. “We have a process in place through the FDA, with scientific studies. If the FDA does a study and approves it, I would have no objection to [marijuana] being used as a medicinal substance.”

That’s a different approach from his predecessor, Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, who left office in January. Mitchell said a couple of years ago that he opposed medical marijuana, with no exceptions. He said marijuana was a gateway drug that led people to take other illegal drugs.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, who represents Whiteside County, called himself a convert to the idea of medical marijuana.

“I had a very good friend who passed away from leukemia,” Jacobs said. “He was the most opposed person to smoking anything. When he got really sick, the only way he could eat, sleep or function was using medical marijuana. That changed my view on it.”

In a 2011 interview, Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, was open to allowing medical marijuana. But the former Lee County sheriff said a medical marijuana law shouldn’t allow people to grow the drug in their homes.

He also said he didn’t think the General Assembly should play the role of doctor.

Bivins, who was in committee hearings Wednesday, couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.

The House bill gives a framework for a 4-year pilot program that includes requiring patients and caregivers to undergo background checks. The legislation sets a 2.5-ounce limit per patient per purchase.

Eighteen states allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with their doctors’ approval.

About the proposal

llinois physicians could prescribe marijuana to patients with specific terminal illnesses or debilitating medical conditions under legislation approved Wednesday by the House.

The bill would create a 4-year pilot program that requires patients and caregivers to undergo background checks, limits the amount of marijuana patients can have at a time, and establishes cultivation centers and selling points.

The measure, HB1, lists more than 30 medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed marijuana.

It prohibits patients from growing their own marijuana. Instead, the state must approve 22 cultivation centers, as well as 60 dispensaries where patients could buy the drug after getting a prescription from a doctor with whom they have an existing relationship.

It sets a 2.5-ounce limit per patient per purchase.

Patients who choose to take marijuana automatically consent to submit themselves to a sobriety field test should a police officer suspect they were driving under its influence.

Go to www.ilga.gov to follow its progress.

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