Compassion Postponed

Some of the patients supporting the legalization of medical marijuana were weeping openly in the hallways of the Capitol yesterday when the SB 1381 did not pass the Illinois House. Our hope for victory was high.

We will have to wait a little bit longer. In chronic and often acute pain, with breaking the law the only path to relief, their wait is not easy.

We came within 4 votes needed for approval and hope to have a second chance in January. As the vote was being tallied, the bill’s sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie) opted for “postponed consideration.” This is a procedural step one can choose when a bill has more than 47 but less than the 60 votes needed for passage.

Although the bill did not pass, what happened yesterday, in fact, represents a major step forward. We now know exactly where we need to go to obtain the necessary support, and may not have to wait much longer for success – if we are willing to work hard for the next six weeks.

The more we work toward legalizing cannabis as medicine, the clearer the reasons become why this is the humane and right path.

Before the vote yesterday, Montel Williams, the TV talk show host, traveled from New York to tell his story, especially to legislators still on the fence. He has been a victim of multiple sclerosis since his days just before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy 30 years ago. As his symptoms gradually worsened, he became addicted to drugs that required ever higher doses and limited his ability to live an acceptable life.

Finally, in desperation and on a doctor’s advice, he turned to cannabis, which he now uses daily. Every day is a struggle, but he has taken control of his disease. He can function well most of the time with the daily help of marijuana.

What is so striking is the way his story matches those of several of the patients we have come to know while working to pass SB 1381: crippling addiction to OxyCotin and other prescription drugs, with stupor, depression, escalating doses, and lives spiraling downward. Then, quite literally, salvation through cannabis: the ability to live a normal life.

The simple truth is that when it comes to pain relief, legal drugs are harmful, and the helpful drug is illegal. Is this not crazy? Many in medicine, law enforcement, government, and the church are perpetuating this nonsense. Cannabis is being blackballed when it needs the light and rigor of research so that at long last we can understand how it relieves pain, which it clearly does.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Rep. David Miller, a dentist, noted that it is time for us to move into the 21st Century when it comes to analyzing and understanding cannabis. We need to start in the individual states because only as this happens will the federal government be challenged to open up the field.

This is a difficult bill to pass because there is little downside to not voting for it. That is why the 56 representatives who stepped forward so on Tuesday deserve our praise and gratitude for their compassion and political courage. Our job now is to find four more as we move into the New Year.

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