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Medical Marijuana

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A proposed Illinois bill aims to legalize medical marijuana


Patients in pain push for legalized marijuana

by Sepideh Nia
April 09, 2013


Jim and Sandy Champion

Marijuana Policy Project

Multiple sclerosis patient Jim Champion Tuesday on Illinois legislators to legalize medical marijuana. His wife Sandy Champion is behind him.

The first time U.S. Army veteran Jim Champion said he used medical marijuana to ease the tremors brought on by multiple sclerosis he was stunned to experience relief that pills could not give him in six months.

“I’ve had many bad side effects from pills and the only side effect that cannabis has had is it makes me hungry, and it’s a good side effect to have,” he said, adding that he is now 140 pounds, down from the 200 pounds he said was in the military.

Champion was one of four patients who spoke in favor of a proposed bill at a news conference in Springfield Tuesday. If passed the proposed bill would legalize medical marijuana for people who are diagnosed with one of 33 conditions, with a physician’s approval.

House Bill 1 will be voted on next week in the Illinois House of Representatives, according to one of the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie). The bill would legalize medical marijuana for people  physicians have diagnosed as having a “debilitating medical condition.”

Champion, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1988, said he started using marijuana medicinally over seven years ago.  Since then, he said he has gone from taking 54 pills a day to 24.  

“It would be so nice if it did pass, to no longer be considered a criminal in the state that I love,” said Champion from Somonauk, west of Chicago.  “It would mean that I wouldn’t have to worry about my wife when she goes out and gets it for me in bad neighborhoods.”

Under the bill, the Illinois Department of Public Health will give out registry identification cards to allow patients to posses no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana during a 14-day period from a source within the state.

The proposed bill is a four-year pilot program, said Lang.  “We will have to see what will happen after these four years,” he said.  “Hopefully we will pass this law. Maybe there will be adjustments on it, maybe not.”

This is the third medical marijuana bill to be proposed in the state of Illinois, according to Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. Previously, marijuana legalization bills failed in the Illinois legislature in 2009 and 2011.

Eighteen states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, have already legalized medical marijuana, according to ProCon.org.  

The Illinois bill would give law enforcement many powers and responsibilities for controlling the use of medical marijuana and all of the users will be put on a database, said Lang.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Riffle. “If someone has cancer and their doctor says medical marijuana will make them feel better then why would we prosecute people for following doctors orders?”

Some groups such as the Illinois Nurses Association and the Illinois State Bar Association have shown their support for the bill.  

David Anderson, associate executive director at the Illinois State Bar Association said their support is nothing new.  “We’ve been on record for some time for possession and use of small amounts, not for distribution, but for personal use,” he said.

But not everyone supports the proposed bill.

“The bill puts the Illinois State Department in the place of the FDA,” said Peter Bensinger, former administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and current president and CEO of Bensinger, DuPont Associates in Chicago.

Bensinger expressed his concern about people driving under the influence of marijuana and the quantity that they will be able to acquire under the proposed bill.

“Since when is smoking good for your health?” he asked.

Bensinger said he supports FDA approved medications, such as Marinol, a cannabinoid used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.

“I don’t approve it if the FDA doesn’t approve it,” said Bensinger regarding medical marijuana.

Champion said, “We try to satisfy our critics. We try to keep it out of the hands of people who would use it for illegal purposes and children.  We are in this for pain relief and a better life that it would give us.”