News Local/State

Gov. Pat Quinn Signs Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill on Thursday, making Illinois the 20th state to legalize the medical use of marijuana.

“This new law will provide that relief and help eligible patients ease their suffering, while making sure Illinois has the nation’s strictest safeguards to prevent abuse,” Quinn said.

The plan allows doctors in a pilot project to prescribe the treatment to people suffering from certain medical conditions, like multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Mike Benner, the executive director of the Greater Community AIDS Project of East Central Illinois, said this will also improve care for those living with HIV and AIDS.

“Some of the medications that people are on are still very toxic," Benner said. "They’re able to keep this virus at bay. So, they may have some issues with food tolerance and stuff like that. So, I do believe that it’ll probably help keep their appetite so that they can eat, but also I think it’ll help alleviate with a lot of the anxiety that just living with the virus can cause people.”

State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, said medicinal marijuana will serve as a better alternative to pain relievers like morphine or Vicodin. He said those prescriptions have harmful effects.

“Those medications, which were designed to help them feel better actually ruined their lives,” Lang said.

Illinois’ medical marijuana law outlines a four-year pilot program requiring patients and caregivers to undergo background checks and sets provisions for state-regulated dispensaries.

Under the plan, patients are allowed no more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks.

Supporters say Illinois’ law is strictly regulated to prevent those who just want pot for recreational use to get it from a medical dispensary.

The bill does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, but it could be months after that before grow houses are set up and producing marijuana.

Meanwhile, other marijuana laws in Illinois may not change any time soon.

Attorney Brian Vicente worked to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, which passed a ballot initiative last year.

"I think that it certainly will open up a broader dialogue about whether Illinois’ marijuana laws make sense or not," he said. "I think that when they see that this product can be regulated for sick people, they’ll say, ‘Well, you know, if we’re making tax money off this, why not just regulate it for all responsible adults?’"

But Gov. Quinn did not say much when asked on Thursday about decriminalizing marijuana.

"I think today is medical and that’s our focus," Quinn said. "Patient-centered. I think this is the right thing to do for today and that’s what I’m focused on."

Last year, Chicago adjusted its policing strategy to allow officers to ticket people caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arrest them.