SPRINGFIELD-The idea of Illinoisans turning to pot to treat severe illnesses moved closer to reality Friday after the Illinois Senate approved the medicinal use of marijuana over GOP objections it would encourage more serious drug use.
The Senate's 35-21 vote, which followed an emotional debate that lasted more than 90 minutes, moves the legislation carried by state Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) to Gov. Pat Quinn.
"We are confident a strict, controlled implementation of this for those who suffer pain with the diseases and conditions listed in the act can be well served," Haine said. "Many of us have anecdotal evidence of the value of this. Doctors' groups have endorsed this, nurses.
"It is a substance, which is much more benign than, for example, powerful prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and the rest. The scourge of these drugs is well known. This is not true of the medical use of marijuana," said Haine, a former state's attorney from Downstate Madison County.
The governor has said he is "open-minded" toward the measure, which if enacted would make Illinois the 19th state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Quinn's office offered no hint of its intentions with the legislation Friday, saying only that the governor intends to "review" the plan.
"The administration has been involved in this," Haine said. "He's not made a public commitment, but I hope when he sees this debate and he hears of the exchange in the House and Senate, his comfort level will be raised."
Friday's roll call came together on the strength of mostly Democratic votes, though three Republicans joined in supporting Haines' legislation, as well. They were Sens. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry), Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) and Dave Syverson (R-Rockford).
Senate Democrats who voted against the bill were Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), Gary Forby (D-Benton), Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor), Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) and Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).
"You all know full well the effects marijuana has on the body," said Hunter, a certified drug and alcohol counselor. "All they did was put 'medical' in front of marijuana. It's still a drug."
Under Haine's four-year pilot program, users would have to suffer from one of 42 named 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.
The plan would authorize 22 growers across Illinois and permit 60 dispensaries where users could purchase the plant.
Users, growers and sellers would have to undergo fingerprinting and criminal background checks. Employers and landlords could bar medicinal marijuana use in their workplaces and buildings. And, users would have to undergo field sobriety tests if police suspect they are driving under the influence of medical cannabis and could lose their driving privileges and privileges to use pot for their illnesses.
"This thing is filed with one check after the other on the possibility of abuse," Haine said. "It allows cultivation of this substance, which can relieve the terrible pains suffered by people. And they won't have to go to the dark side to get it. It'll be grown here in Illinois, not somewhere else."
The plan is opposed by the Illinois Sheriffs' Association and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Illinois State Police remained neutral, leaving no law-enforcement agency in support of Haine's legislation
One by one, opponents stood to predict the state couldn't adequately regulate or police a new marijuana growing and distribution industry that would provide approved users 13 joints a day, and that the drug's legally accepted use would encourage people to turn toward more illicit narcotics.
In one of the debate's most moving moments, state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) choked up noting that the pain of an ill patient who might benefit from marijuana is miniscule compared to the pain of a parent who loses a child from drug abuse. McCarter's 21-year-old daughter died from an accidental drug overdose.
"For every touching story we've heard about the benefits to those in pain, I remind you today that there are a thousand times more parents who'll never be relieved from the pain of losing a child due to addiction, which in many cases started with the very illegal, FDA-unapproved, addiction-forming drug that you are asking us to make a normal part of our communities," McCarter told his colleagues, his voice breaking. "As one of those dads, I ask you to vote no."