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Governor has final say on legalizing medical marijuana

Rezin, Roth, sheriff oppose bill that has passed House, Senate

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 9:35 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — Local lawmakers were not in favor of the bill that is now a signature away from making Illinois the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana.

House Bill 1, which would allow those with serious illnesses to obtain small amounts of cannabis for pain relief, passed the state senate last Friday, and is currently sitting on the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn said Monday he is still reviewing the bill.

Under the Compas-sionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, people with illnesses such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis who have an established relationship with a doctor would qualify for a special identification card allowing them to buy a small amount of marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary.

There are numerous restrictions in the bill intending to prevent abuse of the system.

For instance, patients would be required to undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check, and must have one of 33 approved ailments.

If a patient qualifies, they would be permitted to purchase no more than 2.5 ounces per two weeks, could not grow it themselves, and would not be able to use marijuana in public or around minors. The law would be in effect on a four-year trial basis.

Local leaders, however, believe there is still too much risk.

“I truly feel it’s a gateway drug,” said Rep. Pam Roth (R-Morris), who acknowledged she accidentally voted “yes” when the measure passed the House in April. “We’re just going to make it that much more prevalent.”

The bill passed the House 61 to 57.

State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), who voted against the bill on Friday, said she feels that legalizing medical marijuana could result in an increase in drug use.

“There were very compelling arguments for and against the drug on the Senate floor,” Rezin said. “Ulimately, I think there was a more compelling argument that this is a gateway drug.”

Rezin said she was also concerned that the restrictions listed in the bill could eventually be relaxed. The bill passed the Senate 35 to 21.

The measure has also drawn opposition from law enforcement groups in Illinois.

In March, the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association urged Illinois residents to voice opposition to the bill to lawmakers.

Legalizing medical marijuana could make it tougher for law enforcement to control illegal drug trade, Executive Director Greg Sullivan said in that statement.

Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan opposes the legislation, saying it could make current drug laws more difficult to enforce and could normalize what is currently an illegal drug.

“It’s an illegal drug, so I’m obviously opposed to it,” Callahan said. “It’s always been considered a gateway drug.”

Callahan also said he would like to see more hard data as to its effectiveness as a medical treatment.

“I just don’t think there’s enough information out there that this works,” Callahan said.

Legalizing medical marijuana, Callahan said, could muddy current DUI laws and give young people further access to the drug.

“There’s so much abuse of prescription medicine already,” Callahan said. “All you’re doing now is adding another drug and possibly making it more accessible.”

Quinn has said he has an “open mind” about the bill, but has not said whether he will sign it into law or not.

“I honestly don’t know what he will do,” Rezin said. “He has kept his cards very close to the vest on this issue.”

Rezin said it was a difficult decision, as each side had emotional arguments. It was a good debate, she said.

“I hope everybody realizes that on these big issues, we do sit down and listen to the debate,” Rezin said. “There were very compelling arguments on both sides.”

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