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Ill. Senate approves bill; Medical marijuana use in Quinn’s hands

SPRINGFIELD – Medical marijuana use in Illinois is now in Gov. Pat Quinn’s hands after the state Senate approved legislation.

The proposal has been touted as the strictest in the nation among states that have legalized medical marijuana. It authorizes physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients with whom they have an existing relationship and who has at least one of more than 30 medical conditions listed on the measure.

Lawmakers voted 35-21 to send the measure to the Democratic governor. Quinn has declined to say whether he will support the bill, saying he’s “open-minded” on the issue. Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a former prosecutor, said she is in favor after meeting with patients, including veterans.

DeKalb County’s state senators split their vote on the medical marijuana bill. Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, voted yes while Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, voted no.

Syverson noted the safeguards in the bill, stating that Illinois will not become Colorado or California in terms of how easily someone can get a prescription for medical marijuana. He added that he felt sympathy for the people who were suffering from terminal illnesses or chronic disabilities.

“As a father and a husband, if my loved one was in pain and nauseous from treatment ... I’d do whatever I could to help,” Syverson said. “From that standpoint, I think that’s worth a try.”

Last month, DeKalb County’s state representatives also split their vote on the same bill. Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, voted yes, while Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, voted no.

The legislation creates a framework for a four-year pilot program that includes requiring patients and caregivers to undergo background checks. It sets a 2.5 ounce limit per patient per purchase and calls for 60 dispensaries regulated by the state where patients could buy the drug.

Supporters of the legislation say it is a compassionate measure that could save patients from the agony caused by illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV. They argue that marijuana can relieve continual pain without triggering the harmful effects of other prescription drugs, including painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

Opponents contend the program could encourage the recreational use marijuana, especially among teenagers.

A report issued last month by the Pew Research Center poll showed that 77 percent of Americans say marijuana has legitimate medical uses. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

• Daily Chronicle reporter David Thomas contributed to this report.

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