Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill into law Thursday legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Illinois in a ceremony at the University of Chicago. Supporters say the four-year trial program will be the strictest law of its kind in the nation. Medical cannabis could be used to relieve nausea from cancer treatment, ease stress on people with multiple sclerosis and comfort AIDS patients.
The Democratic governor’s signature will add Illinois to a growing list of 19 other states and the District of Columbia that have made marijuana legal in some form, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For years, the measure had failed to gain traction at the Capitol, particularly in the House. But this spring sponsoring Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, was able to cobble together the votes needed to send the bill to the Senate, where a similar but less restrictive bill had passed in previous years.
“Our goal from the beginning was to provide a better quality of life for some very sick people in Illinois,” Lang said. “When the governor signs the bill, it’ll be a signal to many people that the state of Illinois still has a good deal of compassion, a good deal of concern for those of us, under a doctor’s care, who wish to try a new type of therapy … to simply feel better.”
As the legislation was gaining momentum, Quinn indicated he would keep an “open mind.” Proponents took that as a positive sign from a governor who has displayed his liberal philosophy on issues ranging from abolishing the death penalty to supporting a gay marriage bill. The governor cited an encounter with a military veteran who maintained that marijuana provided him relief from war wounds.
Under the new law, which would take effect Jan. 1, a person could be prescribed no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana over two weeks. In addition, the prescribing doctor must have a prior and ongoing medical relationship with the patient. And a doctor must find that the patient has one of a few dozen serious or chronic conditions for the marijuana to be prescribed.
Patients would have to buy the marijuana from one of 60 dispensing centers throughout the state and would not be allowed to legally grow their own. Workers at dispensing centers would undergo criminal background checks, the stores would be under round-the-clock camera surveillance and users would carry cards that indicate how much they had bought to prevent stockpiling.
Marijuana would be grown inside 22 cultivation centers registered with the state.
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