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Medicinal Marijuana Bill Set To Go To Governor's Desk

By Quinn Ford | May 18, 2013 8:20am
 Chicago lawmakers, advocates and patients say bill is a step in the right direction.
Chicago lawmakers, advocates and patients say bill is a step in the right direction.
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Flickr/Coleen Danger

SPRINGFIELD — Chicagoans suffering from a number of certain medical conditions could soon find relief from medical marijuana.

That comes after the Illinois State Senate passed a bill Friday approving the use of cannabis to treat 42 "debilitating medical conditions."

Chicago lawmakers, advocates and patients said Friday the bill is a step in the right direction, while some called the bill too restrictive.

State Senator Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), who sponsored the bill, said the vote is "long overdue" for people like her stepdaughter, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 21 years old.

"Just knowing what my stepdaughter has gone through at a very young age, and knowing that if this is one form of relief she needs, I just want to make sure it's available to her and many others because, you know waht, I've seen the pain," Martinez said.

Kali McCauley, 22, of Justice, said she has been living with Crohn's Disease for nine and a half years, one of the medical conditions designated in the bill.

McCauley said her doctors have told her cannabis will help alleviate every symptom of her disease, from naseau to vomitting to digesting food.

She said her illness has prevented her from graduating high school or holding down a job and said medical marijuana may be her "first chance at actually living a normal life."

"You know, trying to go to school or trying to hold a job when in the past nine, 10 years you've been in the hospital for an extended stay a hundred times, it's not really feasible," McCauley said.

Marijuana advocates said Friday the bill was a step in the right direction, both for Illinois and the country.

Dan Riffle is the deputy director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group. Riffle said Illinois would be the 19th state in the country to approve medical marijuana and another step towards decriminalization of the drug.

"It's the 19th step along the way," Riffle said. "We are nearing a point where we got almost the majority of states that supports medical marijuana and breaking with the federal government in terms of its backward opposition to marijuana."

Dan Linn, the executive director of the Illinois chapter of NORML, a group aimed at repealing marijuana prohibition, said Friday's vote was "bittersweet."

He said that's because it has taken the state legislature about 10 years to pass a medical marijuana bill, and he said the bill is "highly restrictive."

"But this is the only legislation that we've been able to successfully put on the governor's desk," Linn said. "There's definitely room for improvement."

Linn said he would like to see cannabis use approved for more medical conditons, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill also restricts the number of growers and dishttp://cms.dnainfo.com/node/388761/edit?parent_page=dashboardpensaries in the state and prohibits patients from growing their own marijuana.

Martinez said lawmakers can always amend the bill in the future if it proves too restrictive, but this bill prevents people from "trying to make bucks" off the drug or use it recreationally.

And a patients like McCauley said she understands that.

"It's one of my fears too because I don't want somebody who doesn't deserve it to get their hands on it and just be selling it to whoever because I don't want them to mess it up for me," she said.

But McCauley added that potential for abuse is there for any drug, like Xanax or OxyContin.

The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 35-21 and now awaits a signature from Governor Pat Quinn. The bill passed the Illinois House of Representatives last month.