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State lawmakers OK medical marijuana; legislation heads to governor

Local legislators divided on the measure

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 12:01 a.m. CST

Illinois doctors soon may win the right to prescribe limited doses of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions after Illinois lawmakers endorsed a measure legalizing medical marijuana.

The Illinois State Senate voted 35-21 to approve the legislation Friday.

Under the law, which passed the Illinois State House last month, restrictions would be lifted on the ability of doctors to give their patients access to small amounts of marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries for easing the symptoms of 33 specific diseases or maladies.

Local lawmakers were split on the measure.

State senators Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, Linda Holmes, D-Plainfield, and Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, whose district includes a large portion of western Kane County, voted in support. 

State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, opposed the measure.

In the state House, state representatives Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and Linda Chapa Lavia, D-Aurora, supported the measure. State representatives Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville, Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, and Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, opposed the bill.

Opponents of the bill argued the measure would encourage the recreational use of marijuana, particularly among teens. They also believed that the law did not sufficiently address the issue of drivers operating vehicles while under the influence of marijuana.

McConnaughay said she did not believe the state should have acted on the measure until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration weighs in.

And she said she was concerned by “an overall silence” on the issue by police and their representatives at the state level on enforcement.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs Association both opposed the bill.

“I think there was real trepidation at a local level on this, and I don’t believe the bill addresses the concerns,” McConnaughay said.

Supporters of the measure, however, said the measure was rooted in compassion for those suffering from debilitating illnesses. 

“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.”

On the question of enforcement, supporters have pointed to provisions in the bill spelling out penalties for those violating the law, and a requirement that all those holding a medical marijuana permit undergo field sobriety tests should they be involved in a police traffic stop.

Syverson said safeguards in the bill will prevent Illinois from becoming Colorado or California in terms of how easily someone can get a prescription for medical marijuana.

Oberweis did not respond to a request for comment from the Kane County Chronicle.

The measure now awaits a decision from Gov. Pat Quinn, who has not publicly indicated whether he supports the bill.

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