Medical Marijuana Close to Approval

PCG staff have worked over the past month in support of SB 1381, which would legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes. The bill fell four votes short of approval when it was called for a vote on November 30 and was postponed for future consideration. We are now hoping that the bill will be approved by the Illinois House in the current “lame duck” session of the General Assembly and forwarded to Governor Quinn for his signature. The bill passed the Senate in 2009.

This bill would make Illinois the 16th state to legalize medical marijuana. PCG supports SB 1381 as an act of mercy and compassion on behalf of individuals suffering from chronic or acute pain.

Several key points are critical to PCG’s support. First, we are convinced that, indeed, cannabis has medicinal value that leads to relief. While it does not work for all patients, it is has significant benefits for many and helps some who can find relief in no other way. The testimony of patients who have become addicted to prescription drugs that dramatically reduced their quality of life is persuasive and deeply moving. Second, it is abundantly clear that cannabis is safer than most, if not all of these prescription drugs, most notably OxyContin and Vicadin. Third, this bill provides up-front regulatory measures ensuring that implementation will be one of the most tightly controlled medical cannabis programs among the 15 states that have taken this step.

We have found in our advocacy of the bill that legislators have not been fully informed of these key points. We have therefore prepared background material that addresses these and other concerns.

Critics of SB 1381 refer almost exclusively to the experience of California and Colorado as examples of states in which the use of marijuana has extended beyond legitimate medical need. They fail to point out, however, that the measures in these states were passed through ballot initiatives, with virtually no front-end regulations of the kinds contained in the Illinois bill.

They argue further that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved cannabis as medicine, and that this should, therefore not be permitted at the state level. These critics fail to note that cannabis was declared illegal only over the objection of the American Medical Association in 1937, that the Institute of Medicine and the American Cancer Society recognize both the safety and medical potential of cannabis, and that the FDA has refused even to permit research on cannabis as medicine. Approval by states is necessary to break through this bureaucratic and political firewall.

While many local law enforcement officials are critical of the bill, it has not been opposed by the Illiinois State Police and two police within the Illinois Legislature have voted in support. The bill provides severe penalties for those who, under its provisions, divert marijuana to non-medical uses.

The current roll call on the bill indicates a very close vote. We are grateful to so many of you who have reached out to legislators in your districts. We will keep you apprised on the bill’s status in the next few days. We hope you will share the information we have provided with those who you feel might be enlisted in support of SB1381.

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