SPRINGFIELD --- The Senate today approved legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with serious illnesses, sending the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn.
The issue pitted supporters arguing for compassion for those suffering from pain they say only cannabis can ease against opponents who contend the legislation would undermine public safety.
Sponsoring Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, argued the measure is one of the toughest in the nation. Haine said his bill does not reflect other states that have “sloppily” instituted medical marijuana laws.
“This bill is filled with walls to keep this limited,” said Haine, a former Madison County state’s attorney.
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, raised concerns about lawmakers endorsing a product that classified as a controlled substance by the federal government, arguing marijuana is a gateway drug that could lead users to harder substances.
“For every touching story we have heard about the benefits to those in pain, I remind you today that there are a thousand time more parents who will 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 now make a normal part of our communities,” McCarter said.
The proposal would create a four-year trial program in which doctors could prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions -- including cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV -- and an established relationship with a doctor.
Patients would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be banned from using marijuana in public and around minors. Patients also could not legally grow marijuana, and they would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers.
The measure drew strong opposition from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association, which sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers warning the proposal would not stop medical marijuana card holders from driving while under the influence. They suggested blood and urine testing be included in the legislation to allow police to determine whether card holders had marijuana in their system while driving.
Haine argued the law has safeguards to prevent that, including designating on a driver's license whether they use medical marijuana.
The Senate vote was 35-21, with 30 needed to pass the bill. It goes to Quinn, who has not indicated whether he will sign it. The Democratic governor recently said he is open minded to the legislation.
Read the bill: HERE
See how House members voted last month: HERE
See how the Senate voted today: HERE