HYDE PARK — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill Thursday authorizing the use of medicinal marijuana to treat dozens of "debilitating medical conditions," including cancer and AIDS.
“Whatever faith we practice, helping those who are sick, in pain and in need of comfort is a tenet of every faith and religion,” Quinn said, adding that the law was carefully drafted to serve as a model for other states.
“Without this bill, the people you see here today and thousands of others were using oxycotin, hydrocodone and codeine to deal with their pain,” Lang said.
“It put them flat on their backs and made them unable to work or do anything,” Lang said. “That medication was supposed to help them and actually ruined their lives."
Quinn’s signature approved the four-year "Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program," which allows patients suffering from one of 42 illnesses to use marijuana. Those illnesses include cancer, AIDS and complications from Alzheimer's disease, among others.
Illinois will become the 20th state to put a medical marijuana law on the books, following most recently New Hampshire.
The bill, which passed through the Illinois General Assembly in May, will authorize 22 growers and 60 dispensaries across the state. It has already spawned another industry — clinics that will meet with patients to begin the process of getting them a pot prescription. One is already planned for 1723 N. Ashland in Wicker Park.
The bill also allows patients to possess an "adequate" supply of marijuana, which is defined as 2.5 ounces in a two-week period that is bought only within the state of Illinois.
“The gatekeeper is one person and one person only, and that is a physician,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouk, director of the Illinois Department of Public health.
Hasbrouk said there will be tight restrictions on how and to whom doctors prescribe marijuana, and it will be tracked by police using a central database.
Although marijuana advocates and affected patients applauded the passage of the bill in May, many said it would be the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the country, with critics calling it too restrictive.
But lawmakers who sponsored the bill, such as state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), said the new law's restrictions would prevent people from using the drug illegally.
Limey Nargelenas, government relations representative for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said the new law presents a personal safety issue, and voiced concerns over how marijuana users could exploit it.
"An individual, even an 18-year-old, could smoke two or three joints, then go out and drive," he said. "It's a highway-safety issue."
Nargelenas praised the law's four-year trial provision, and expressed hopes the legislation could be changed after its initial run.
"If we start having fatalities on highways and other problems start appeaering, this may be a law that we move to oppose sooner," he said.
At Thursday's bill signing, Rabbi Daniel Davis said the morphine and other pain medication he was prescribed to ease the pain from his spinal stenosis destroyed his “super cop” abilities.
The former investigator with the Fort Worth, Texas, police said the medication has played havoc with his mind and he often forgets simple details of his life and has lost the finely-honed skill flushing out a lying witness by reading facial expressions.
Davis, who now lives in the north suburbs, said he was never against marijuana, but as a police officer he said he felt his duty was to enforce the law and never used it, despite repeated urgings from his physicians.
“I’ve talked to doctors I trusted and they all said it would be a good idea,” Davis’ wife, Lorriedel Davis, said. “You get this wonderful euphoria, and the other thing that would be good for me is he would eat.”
Daniel Davis said the Quinn’s signature resolves the conflict of drug use he has already reconciled with his faith.
“It says in the Torah, all of these plants will be for your use,” Davis said. “God approves of marijuana.”
- Darryl Holliday contributed reporting