SPRINGFIELD — It's up to Gov. Pat Quinn whether medical marijuana will become legal in Illinois.
House Bill 1 passed the Illinois Senate Friday on a 35-21 roll call, authorizing a four-year pilot program where physicians could prescribe up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks to a patient with whom they had an ongoing relationship. The marijuana, prescribed to ease pain and other effects of illnesses and disease, would be sold at state-licensed and regulated dispensaries.
Thirty votes were needed for Senate passage. The legislation already has passed the House.
A spokesman for Quinn made no commitment Friday, although the governor has described himself as open-minded on the medical use of marijuana.
"Governor Quinn will carefully review the bill when it reaches his desk," said spokesman Dave Blanchette.
Among area senators, only Champaign Democrat Mike Frerichs voted yes on Friday. All area Republican senators — Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Dale Righter of Mattoon, and Jason Barickman and Bill Brady, both of Bloomington, voted no.
Generally the roll call was along party lines, with most Republicans voting no and most Democrats voting yes.
Frerichs, who said he had voted against past medical marijuana bills in the Senate, said he was confident the new bill had adequate safeguards.
"It's not because I was opposed to madical marijuana, but I was opposed to the ability for people to grow their own and distribute themselves," he said. "I think that in the House they tightened this up dramatically so that I'm not worried about this getting into the hands of people who are not sick, or young people.
"But for the people who do have debilitating medical conditions, who can have some relief from this, I was happy to support this."
Rose said the federal government needs to resolve the medical marijuana issue so that proper qualities, quantities and dosages of marijuana are delivered by pharmacies, not what he called "pot clubs."
"With this it's not like you're going to Walgreens and you have people who went to school making sure you're delivered the correct dose," he said. "I think the federal government needs to fix this so that it's between a physician and a pharmacist, like any other scheduled substance."
"I'm extremely empathetic for those suffering — my own father died of cancer when I was in junior high and my heart goes out to them," Rose added. "However, I believe this should be between a pharmacist and a physician, like any other scheduled drug."
Barickman voiced similar concerns in floor debate.
"This legislation does nothing more than create a new bureaucracy to handle one drug, and in doing so sidesteps an already established federal bureaucracy," he said. "It sidesteps federal law and it takes us down a path for which none of us can predict what the next step may be, what drug is next."
In past debates on medical marijuana in Illinois, proponents cited how the suffering of loved ones could be eased with cannabis.
But Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, whose 21-year-old daughter died of a drug overdose, offered a different emotional context.
"For every touching story we have heard about the benefits of those in pain, I remind you today that there are a thousand times more parents who will never be relieved from the pain of losing a child due to addiction which in many cases started with the very illegal, FDA-unapproved, addiction-forming drug that you are asking us now to make a normal part of our communities," said McCarter, whose daughter Amber passed away in 2006.
"As one of those dads I ask you to vote no," he said, slumping back into his seat with tears in his eyes.
Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, argued that studies showed that states with medical marijuana laws have higher rates of teenage marijuana use.
"One reason teenagers smoke more pot in states with medical marijuana laws is that they begin to see pot as a benign medication," he asserted. "This kind of law, and laws in other states, they give you justification, a rationale, a normalization that this is somehow benign. That's the problem."
But Sen.Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, who said she has multiple sclerosis — one of 33 drugs for which medical marijuana could be prescribed under the Illinois law — said the drug "relieves some of the horrible, debilitating symptoms of MS."
"If we don't look at the compassionate effect of medical marijuana and say yes, it's finally passed in the House, this much more restrictive bill, this will ensure quality of life for people in Illinois who so desperately need it," she said.
If HB 1 is signed by Quinn, Illinois would become the 19th state, along with the District of Columbia, with some form of legalized marijuana.