SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Senate voted Wednesday to authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, marking the state's first-ever step toward legalizing the drug.
The vote was only the second time the proposal has reached a vote in either Illinois legislative chamber. The proposal by Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, passed by a razor-thin 30-28 vote. It now goes to the House.
The measure would allow people suffering from unrelenting pain or nausea due to a narrow list of conditions — including cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease — to use marijuana if prescribed by a doctor.
Physicians who prescribe the drug would have to have an established relationship with the patient.
Patients or their primary caregiver then would be allowed to grow marijuana in their home or visit a licensed dispensary to obtain their supply.
Haine, a former Madison County state's attorney, said the bill aims to provide those who are suffering with a legal, controlled way to obtain marijuana without resorting to criminal means.
"This is saying we have common sense and compassion," Haine said.
Sen. Michael Jacobs, D-Moline, said it's hypocritical to keep patients from using a plant that grows naturally.
"God grows these seeds," Jacobs said.
But Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, called the proposal "an invitation for trouble" because it does not require patients or their caregivers to pass a criminal background check before being allowed to grow marijuana.
"This bill has loopholes you could drive a truck through," Righter said.
A mainstay argument of critics also has been that the marijuana beyond what a patient needed would end up on the street and in the hands of teenagers.
Data show eight out of the 10 states that had legalized medical marijuana by 2006 saw a decrease in use among teenagers — some of up to 4 percent, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Only Maine and Vermont saw increased use among teens after authorizing marijuana for medicinal use.
Thirteen states have legalized medicinal marijuana, and several others across the country have proposals pending.
The Illinois bill is Senate Bill 1381.
By Kari Andren
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Illinois Senate backs medicinal use of marijuana