Illinois Becomes 20th Medical Marijuana State
Gov. Pat Quinn today signed into law a bill making Illinois the 20th state to legalize marijuana for medical use.
“This is really an important day, I think, for healing in Illinois,” said Quinn at the signing ceremony at the University of Chicago.
The new law is a clear victory for medical marijuana supporters, but Illinois’ statute is also one of the most restrictive in the nation. State legislators who championed the bill say the tight regulations will prevent crime and make Illinois’ medical marijuana program a model for the nation, while patient advocates say the bill is a good start that leaves much to be desired.
“Medical marijuana isn’t as much an issue of law and order as it is of basic human rights,” wrote Rep. Lou Lang and Sen. Bill Haine in an editorial to The Telegraph. “But patients using medical marijuana should not be treated any differently from those who use prescription drugs obtained from a pharmacy. Providing for high standards, stringent security measures and regulatory oversight is preferable to having medical marijuana patients continue to obtain the drug illegally.”
The law allows patients to buy up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks. Patients can only be recommended for the program by their established physicians, preventing so-called “pot docs” who freely write recommendations for unfamiliar patients in less regulated states like California. Qualifying patients must have one of a list of 33 medical conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV and AIDS.
Other aspects of the law are troubling to advocacy groups like Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which outlined its objections in a press release after the signing.
“The bill will continue to criminalize patients growing their own medicine, a right afforded to qualified patients in three-quarters of the country’s medical marijuana states,” said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. “It’s expected that the cost of obtaining marijuana from a ‘dispensing organization’ will be prohibitively expensive for thousands of patients. HB1 also fails to establish an affirmative defense for patients if they’re arrested, mandates fingerprinting and criminal background checks for patients, and gives police unfettered access to their records.”
Patient Access Spreading
The Illinois law, which takes effect Jan. 1, establishes the medical marijuana program on a four-year trial basis. It allows for up to 60 medical marijuana dispensaries and 22 cultivation sites which will be strictly regulated in their location, operating hours and site security.
Hermes notes that with the passage of the Illinois law, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population now has some form of legal medical marijuana access.
Most medical marijuana laws have been passed in the Eastern and Western U.S. Michigan joined the list in 2008, but Illinois is now the closest such state to the nation’s heartland. It’s the second state to legalize medical marijuana this year, following the passage of New Hampshire’s law in July.
Is your state among the two-fifths that have legalized medical marijuana? What do you think of the growing trend? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.