SPRINGFIELD-A bid to legalize marijuana for a litany of serious ailments and diseases narrowly passed the House Wednesday in a major move that could make Illinois the 19th state to permit the plant's medical use.
"I know every single one of you has compassion in your heart. This is the day to show it," said Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill's chief House sponsor. "This is a day to get beyond politics. This is the day to get beyond elections. This is a day to talk about your constituents."
As wheelchair-bound advocates and others watched from the crowded House gallery, the chamber voted 61-57 to send the plan to the Illinois Senate, which approved a similar version in 2009.
Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn signaled he was "open-minded" about the plan, suggesting a willingness to sign the legislation if it gets to his desk later this year.
Opponents lined up against Lang's legislation, saying that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would pave the way to broader legalization of pot in Illinois and steer young people into a life of drug addiction.
"I really believe we're making a mistake if we pass this legislation," said Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica), a former FBI agent who said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should sign off on pot's medical use if it truly is a legitimate healthcare option.
The FDA has not so, though President Barack Obama's administration has urged federal prosecutors not to go after legal users in states that allow medicinal marijuana.
Under Lang's plan, users would have to suffer from one of 33 ailments or diseases, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and ALS, and have a doctor's prescription before they would be allowed to purchase and possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana during a 14-day period.
His legislation would authorize 22 growers across Illinois and permit 60 dispensaries where users could purchase the plant.
"Our goal is simple, to provide a quality of life for people with a product that can't hurt them," Lang said after more than 75 minutes of debate.