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Local lawmakers split on marijuana use

Bill creates 4-year pilot program

Sen. Tim Bivins (left) and Rep. Tom Demmer
Sen. Tim Bivins (left) and Rep. Tom Demmer

Sauk Valley lawmakers have mixed reactions to the state's medical marijuana pilot program signed into law Thursday.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill during a news conference at a new medical facility at the University of Chicago, saying it will help seriously ill patients.

"It's very important we do whatever we can to ease their pain," Quinn said. "It's a very well-drafted bill."

The measure, which takes effect Jan. 1, sets up a 4-year pilot program for state-run dispensaries and 22 so-called cultivation centers, where the plants will be grown.

The bill lists more than 30 illnesses, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and lupus, which are among those patients must have to be eligible. The patients must have established relationships with a doctor and will be limited to 2.5 ounces every 2 weeks.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, who represents Whiteside County, voted for the bill April 17, and said it's a "good piece of legislation" that will help people manage pain. He also saw the pilot program as a way to ease into legalizing marijuana for medical use.

“I’m happy to see that we're not rushing this and making this a full piece of legislation," he said. "I think we're going about it the right way, to make sure if there are [issues] we’ll go back and address them.”

Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, a spokesman for KSB Hospital in Dixon, voted against it, but said multiple revisions had made it a strong bill. His opposition stemmed from concern that the bill would allow the Legislature to bypass the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which usually approves medical treatments.

"We're creating a new way for doctors to approve drugs," Demmer said. "I still put my faith in the scientific, double-blind testing before something comes out in the market."

Demmer said he would rather the effectiveness be tested and approved by the FDA, and is concerned this would create a precedent for the General Assembly to approve other treatments before the FDA.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, who represents Whiteside County, said he sees medical marijuana as a safe, organic alternative to prescription drugs. He also said he would support decriminalization, and thinks this may be a step in that direction.

"I would support legalization," he said. "It’s gone on long enough. It's just gotten ridiculous. If a doctor believes it can help a person, then let them use it."

Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, former Lee County sheriff, is an opponent of the bill and also sees it as a potential step toward decriminalization.

Similarly to Demmer, he said the bill puts the General Assembly in the position of endorsing medical procedures.

"We’re setting ourselves up as experts about what's a safe and effective drug," he said. "And we’re not capable of that." 

The pilot program's rules are among some of the strictest in the nation, Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Associated Press. The Washington, D.C.-based legalization advocacy group tracks state laws and helps some craft bills. 

The bill doesn't allow for homegrown medical marijuana, which Bivins said was allowed on a previous medical marijuana bill. There are quality and quantity control aspects, which make it a strong bill, he said, despite his opposition.

Nineteen other states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana. Washington and Denver have decriminalized marijuana.

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