SPRINGFIELD-With a 2014 gubernatorial bid in his sights, Gov. Pat Quinn dodged questions Wednesday about medical marijuana even while he took concrete positions on other controversial issues like concealed carry and casino expansion.
Following a Springfield rally supporting community care facilities, Quinn fielded reporters' questions on pensions, gambling and concealed carry but declined to take a specific stance on a bill legalizing medical marijuana that could see a House vote as early as next week.
"I just haven't seen that bill. I'm going to watch that debate. I have had folks visit me including veterans who have advocated for a particular bill in the past. I don't know what this particular bill says now, but like anything you want to follow the debate, and if it does pass then we'll analyze it, review it and make a decision," Quinn told reporters.
However, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill's chief House sponsor, told the Sun-Times he was "quite certain" the governor would sign his bill and that Quinn's office was involved in the drafting process of many portions of the legislation.
But Quinn neither confirmed nor denied his office's involvement and reasserted his desire to see a final version of the bill before taking a position.
"Well, we'll take a look at the final product," Quinn said. "Sometimes, uh - we'll see what happens."
Quinn was more clear on other issues, saying he thought local communities including Chicago should be able to make their own rules regarding concealed carry and that a recently introduced online gambling provision in the Senate needs further review.
But legalizing marijuana, even if only for the chronically or terminally ill, carries political risk for Quinn and other lawmakers who might support it. While the bill includes more safeguards than previous versions, opponents in next year's campaigns could portray proponents as being soft on drug use.
Lang, meanwhile, claims his bill is "very close" to having enough votes to pass the House but called the roll call a "moving target."
"I frankly think it's mostly politics," Lang told the Sun-Times. "Virtually, every member of the House is for and against having nothing to do with what's in the bill. They hear the words 'medical marijuana' and they have a reaction to it - for or against. And that reaction is pretty much always political."
Lang said many House members are debating the current measure but are referencing previous legislation that passed the Senate in 2009 and fell four votes short of passage in the House in 2011.
"I'm close enough to see the finish line," Lang said about his bill's prospects in the House. "My hard roll call is very close to the number I need to pass the bill. I need a very small number of additional votes to close the deal."