Illinois Medical Marijuana: Great First Step, Room for Improvements

Marijuana Is Medicine

SPRINGFIELD, IL — The Illinois Senate voted 35-21 Friday to pass the “Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act,” which creates a framework to protect physicians and certain qualified medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution — but only for the next four years.

Friday’s vote comes a month after the Illinois House voted 61-57 in favor of House Bill 1, which now goes to Governor Quinn. If the bill is signed into law, Illinois would become the country’s 19th — and most restrictive —  medical marijuana state.

Advocates have raised a number of concerns over the bill, and plan to pursue follow-up legislation to improve its effectiveness in meeting patients’ needs.

“This is a great day for patients in Illinois,” Mike Liszewski, Policy Director with Americans for Safe Access, said Friday. “We hope that Governor Quinn will see the importance of signing this bill into law, which we look forward to implementing and also improving with follow-up legislation.”

House Bill 1, which is scheduled to expire in four years, was called one of the most restrictive laws in the country by one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton).

House Bill 1 would allow patients with one of 33 “debilitating medical conditions,” such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV to obtain approval from a physician to use medical marijuana. The law would entitle qualifying patients to possess 2.5 ounces for a 2-week period.

Patients would not be able to cultivate the marijuana themselves, contrary to most state laws, but they could obtain it from one of the state’s 60 “registered dispensing organizations,” which would be supplied by 22 “licensed cultivation centers.”

The bill would also tax the sale of medical marijuana at 7 percent.

Patient advocates consider House Bill 1 a great first step, but also admit there are a number of concerns they wish to address with follow-up legislation.

Chief among the concerns is that the bill would continue to criminalize patients growing their own medicine, a right afforded to most patients covered by state medical marijuana laws in the U.S. It’s expected that the cost of obtaining marijuana from a “dispensing organization” will be prohibitively expensive for thousands of patients.

The bill also imposes a 7 percent tax on the sale of medical marijuana, fails to establish an affirmative defense for patients if they’re arrested, mandates fingerprinting and criminal background checks for patients, and gives police unfettered access to their records.

Advocates did, however, manage to win an amendment that exempted qualified patients from the state’s zero-tolerance DUID law.

Passage of HB1 by the Senate comes a month after nearly 250 Illinois physicians pledged their support for legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

A Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll released in February, showed that more than 63 percent of Illinois voters support the legalization of medical marijuana.