SPRINGFIELD -- A key Illinois Senate committee has forwarded a medical marijuana law for Illinois, about three weeks after the full Illinois House approved the bill (HB 1 ).
It was passed 10-5, with nine Democrats and one Republican supporting it. Four Republicans and one Democrat on the Senate Executive Committee voted against the measure which supporters say would be the tightest medical marijuana law in the country. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow patients some level of access to marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The Illinois proposal, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, a former state's attorney, would authorize a four-year pilot program that would permit patients with a number of specified conditions, including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to get up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, once it is prescribed by a physician with whom they have had an ongoing relationship. The marijuana would come from 60 state-licensed dispensaries in Illinois.
Dr. David Walters, an obstretrician-gynecologist in Mount Vernon for 18 years, told committee members that he was diagnosed six months ago with esophogial cancer, and that he has been prescribed a number of narcotics to help him deal with pain, anxiety and other side effects.
"It is my opinion that each of these medications has a greater abuse potential than marijuana," Walters said. "Each probably results in a greater degree of physical and mental impairment. Each has the potential to impair one's ability to operate machinery or to drive a vehicle. Each also carries a much higher tendency to develop dependency and addiction. Furthermore, each of these medications has a more dangerous and unpleasant side effect, including the not-infrequent occurrence of overdose.
"Yet each may be and are legally prescribed, dispensed and consumed, routinely so in the case of terminal patients."
He said the use of marijuana in such cases would lead to less use of controlled substances. He called it "a gentler alternative."
But Dr. Dora Dixie, a family practice physician on Chicago's south side, said she opposed the use of medical marijuana.
"As a primary care physician I believe science should drive the practice of medicine, and not legislators," Dixie said. "Who is going to educate the doctors on prescribing this medical marijuana? Importantly, who will be the watchdogs over us physicians because we mess up. We need to be policed. Everyone needs to be supervised. Who is going to supervise this?"
She called marijuana "potent, harmful, unstable and unpredictable.
"The American Society of Addiction Medicine says no. The oncologists say no. The ophthamalogists say no. And I say no."