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by Thomas H. Clarke
SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois Senate voted Friday to approve a bill that would allow Illinois residents with serious illnesses to use medical marijuana if their physicians recommend it.
The full Senate voted 35-21 to approve the measure, which received approval from the full House of Representatives on April 17 and now heads to the Governor’s desk for approval.
If Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signs the bill, Illinois will become the 19th or 20th state to legalize medical marijuana in some capacity. Maryland recently passed a bill to establish a medical marijuana program, as well. In addition to Illinois and Maryland, 18 states plus the District of Columbia allow the medical use of marijuana.
If the Illinois bill becomes law, as many as 60 retail establishments will be licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients with cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses. Gov. Quinn has made positive comments about allowing medical marijuana in the state, but has not yet indicated if he would sign the bill or not.
House Bill 1, sponsored in the Senate by former state’s attorney Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), would allow people suffering from specific medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.
Qualified patients would be able to obtain marijuana from one of up to 60 dispensaries, which would acquire marijuana from up to 22 cultivation centers. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Financial & Professional Regulation would regulate the cultivation, acquisition, and distribution of marijuana.
Rev. Alexander Sharp, executive director emeritus of Protestants for the Common Good, former narcotics police officer Karen Stone, Mt. Vernon-based physician Dr. David Walters, and a Somonauk-based military veteran with advanced multiple sclerosis testified in support of the bill Wednesday.
The bill has also been endorsed by the Illinois Nurses Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. Since last month, more than 265 doctors from across the state have signed on to a statement in support of safe access to medical marijuana for patients with serious illnesses.
“If marijuana can provide relief to those suffering from terrible illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS, it is unconscionable to criminalize them for using it,” Rev. Sharp said. “I am proud to see our state’s elected officials are moving forward with this compassionate and much-needed legislation. It’s the right thing to do.”
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. Similar legislation has been introduced in 16 additional states this year, and it is anticipated in one more state.