SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House approved a measure Wednesday to allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients with specific terminal illnesses or debilitating medical conditions.
Lawmakers voted 61-57 for legislation that creates a four-year pilot program that requires patients and caregivers to undergo background checks, limits the amount of marijuana patients can have at a time, and establishes cultivation centers and selling points.
The legislation now goes to the state Senate, where a version of the bill was approved in 2009. Senate President John Cullerton’s spokeswoman said this week that he supports the legislation.
Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t said whether he would sign the measure should it reach his desk.
Supporters said marijuana can relieve continual pain without triggering the harmful effects of other prescription drugs. They touted the legislation as a compassionate measure that would save patients from the agony caused by illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV.
“I know every single one of you have compassion in your heart, this is the day to show it,” said Rep. Lou Lang, the sponsor of the bill. “... Let people feel better, let them have a better quality of life.”
The bill lists more than 30 medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed marijuana.
The legislative proposal prohibits patients from growing their own marijuana. Instead, the state must approve 22 cultivation centers, as well as 60 dispensaries where patients could buy the drug after getting a prescription from a doctor with whom they have an existing relationship. The legislation sets a 2.5 ounce limit per patient per purchase.
Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, said the bill is the strictest in the nation. Still, opponents say the program would encourage the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
“It’s going to cause confusion in our communities,” said Republican Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro. “... I guarantee you that we will be back adjusting this legislation or we would be back in this floor for the legalization of marijuana.”
Lang and other supporters have been trying to legalize medical marijuana for several years. A measure that had cleared the Senate failed in the House in 2011, when six Republicans and 50 Democrats voted yes.
Quinn on Wednesday said the bill’s sponsor hasn’t reached out to him to build support on the measure.
The Democratic governor said he was recently visited by a veteran suffering from war founds who was helped by the medical use of marijuana. Quinn said he was “impressed by his heartfelt feeling” on the issue.
“I’m certainly open-minded to it,” he said.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
A report issued earlier this month by the Pew Research Center poll showed that 77 percent of Americans say marijuana has legitimate medical uses.