SPRINGFIELD—The Illinois House voted to legalize marijuana for medical use in a potential breakthrough for supporters Wednesday following an emotional debate that included lawmakers’ stories of friends and relatives seeking relief from overwhelming pain and sickness.
The 61-57 vote for a four-year pilot program was cheered by supporters who say the House has long been the highest hurdle for legalization; the Senate has previously passed similar legislation and Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday he was “open-minded” about the proposal.
Illinois would become the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana and proponents say it would be the most restrictive program in the country, with conditions on qualifying illnesses, physician approval and production of the drug.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not about getting high, it’s not about dope, it’s not about what our mothers told us when we went to college,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, the chief sponsor. “This is about providing a product at no expense to the taxpayers to provide better health care to people who desperately need this product.”
National opinion polls have suggested Americans are increasingly comfortable with marijuana for medical use, but opponents pointed out that many in law enforcement and medicine, as well as the federal government, are not on board.
“This bill is absolutely a wrong piece of legislation,” said Republican Rep. Jim Sacia, a former FBI agent from Pecatonica who added that many Illinois sheriffs oppose the proposal.
Lang implored fence-sitting lawmakers to stop forcing people who need relief into “some back alley” to score their pot, saying “we’re turning granny into a criminal.”
The most persuasive arguments may have been those from lawmakers who related personal stories.
With her voice breaking, Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, told colleagues she opposed the measure in the past but changed her mind because of an ill friend and his wife who spent time at Osmond’s home while the man battled chronic pain tied to complications from cancer. Osmond wouldn’t let him use marijuana in her house. Now, two years since his death, she said she wonders about her decision because he was in a daze from a painkiller prescription that “made him extremely sick, very sick.”
North Side Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy told colleagues the story of a brother-in-law who suffers from terminal cancer and “would not be with us if not for making use of cannabis.” Pain pills were “sucking the life out of him,” but now he and her sister can “enjoy what will be his last days,” she said.
“My sister and my brother-in-law, who I love dearly, are able to make the best of an absolutely horrific situation as a result of this product,” Cassidy said.
Rep. Deb Mell, D-Chicago, said she has taken medication for pain since having an August mastectomy and can relate to the suffering. “There’s a real panic that comes in because it’s like, ‘I can’t live with this pain, but I can’t keep taking these pills,’” she said.
Under the bill, an individual could be prescribed no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana over two weeks. A doctor who prescribes marijuana must have had a prior and ongoing relationship with the patient.
April, 2013|By Ray Long and Rafael Guerrero | Tribune reportersState Capitol in Springfield (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)