Aurora Medical Marijuana
Those hoping to be the next occupant of the governor's mansion in Springfield come down on both sides of the issue of medical marijuana, from both sides of the aisle.
Although pot use remains illegal in most places, it has been found to ease pain and nausea in people suffering from a variety of ills — cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn's disease and other debilitating conditions — sparing them from some of the side effects of conventional treatments.
Approved by the Illinois Senate last fall, SB1381 would establish a three-year pilot program through which people diagnosed with such conditions could register with the Department of Public Health and legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana at a time, to use for medicinal purposes. The state House has yet to vote on the bill.
One of the 12 sponsors was state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, whose district includes a portion of Naperville .
"When you start talking about diseases such as (multiple sclerosis) and cancer, there are a lot of benefits to be achieved," she said.
Diagnosed with MS 20 years ago, Holmes said she considers herself fortunate to have "relatively few problems" with it. She doesn't need the relief marijuana can bring to sufferers, she said, but her frequent contact with the Greater Chicagoland MS Society and others who have MS have convinced her that it has valuable applications in bringing relief from pain and spasticity.
"A lot of these people can't do normal things, like walking their children to school or going to their jobs without pain," said Holmes, who related that she opposed an earlier version of the bill that brought too much potential for allowing abuse. "I think we need to be able to help them."
Cancer patients, she added, commonly lose their appetite; marijuana can also trigger hunger and keep lack of nourishment from causing their condition to worsen further.
Addressing the issue of enforcement, Holmes said many prescription medicines are widely abused now, and she would be interested in learning what police say about charging those who violate controlled-substance laws.
Among the local Republican governor hopefuls, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, a Naperville resident, and state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, oppose the bill.
Schillerstrom said his understanding is that in the places where medical marijuana is allowed, things have gotten out of hand. Any potential benefits from the medicinal properties of the drug are outweighed by problems with regulation and abuse, he said.
"At the end of the day, I think what it really does is it leads to the legalization of marijuana, and I'm against that," Schillerstrom said.
Dillard said he and the other state legislators have been urged by police organizations to reject the measure.
"Law enforcement officials — including the California state police, where this law has been implemented — tell me that enforcement is a nightmare, and police officers believe that it is unwise to allow individuals to grow marijuana for medical purposes," said Dillard, who also has heard the Illinois Medical Society's position on the issue. "As long as law enforcement officials tell me this is a bad idea, and the medical society doesn't counter with why there would be benefits to this, I oppose the bill."
He said he went into the issue undecided, but took his position in part because the police community is "overburdened already," especially with newly enacted laws such as the ban on text-messaging behind the wheel.
State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington is also an opponent, echoing Schillerstrom's stance.
"Legalizing medical marijuana appears to me to be nothing more than moving us down the slope of legalizing marijuana," he said.
Former state Attorney General Jim Ryan is among the Republicans who say they could back well-regulated medical marijuana.
"It can provide needed relief for patients with various afflictions," said Ryan, who is a cancer survivor.
Other GOP candidates open to some form of legalized medical marijuana are Hinsdale businessman Adam Andrzejewski and public relations consultant Dan Proft.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said he would consider signing a medical marijuana bill.
"In general, I believe that people who are seriously ill deserve access to all medical treatments that will help them," he said.
Quinn's primary opponent, Comptroller Dan Hynes, has said he opposes the outright legalization of marijuana. According to a spokesman, Hynes also is against allowing its use for medical purposes.
Thirteen states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island and Washington — have decriminalized marijuana use for treating certain illnesses. Illinois has, too. The law has been on the books here since 1978, but the Illinois Department of Public Health has yet to implement the rules necessary to permit actual use of medical marijuana.
Some Illinois legislators think the time has come for a new law. A dozen members of the General Assembly — including 11 Democrats and Springfield Republican Rep. Angelo Saviano — co-sponsored the proposed legislation with Holmes.
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