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Medical marijuana

The Illinois House and Senate have spoken – now it’s in Gov. Pat Quinn’s hands.

If the governor signs House Bill 1, patients with diseases such as cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis would be able to receive a prescription from their doctors for marijuana to relieve their symptoms.

The bill has been on Quinn’s desk since Friday, after the measure passed the Senate easily on a 35-21 vote. It came to the Senate after passing the House on April 17 by a much closer 61-57 vote. All of Bureau County legislators – Rep. Don Moffitt (R-Gilson), Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria), Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) and Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) – voted against the bill.

There is other local opposition to the legislation.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association strongly opposed the legislation, as does Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson.

Thompson said he was not trying to take anything away from somebody’s ability to feel better but had serious concerns about enforcement, due to the way the legislation is written.

“It’s written in a terrible, unenforceable manner,” he said.

The legislation would establish a four-year pilot program during which individuals with one of 33 serious diseases would be able to get a special identification card allowing them to buy up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks from one of 60 state-licensed dispensaries.

“That’s a significant amount of marijuana,” Thompson said.

What if someone had three ounces of medical marijuana, Thompson asked. Do you arrest them?

What if someone with a prescription for medical marijuana is arrested? How do you allow them to smoke it in jail without affecting everyone else.

In addition, distribution of marijuana is still considered a federal offense, which could make medical marijuana both legal and illegal at the same time.

“It creates a vast number of problems for the law enforcement community,” he said.

It also could create problems for the medical community.

Rex Conger, president/CEO of Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, said he didn’t have an opinion from the clinical perspective of the use of marijuana in patient treatment.

But he did have an opinion from the perspective of having to treat patients who abuse marijuana.

Conger said it would be hard to tell the difference between a person who comes into the hospital with a prescription for medical marijuana and someone who has an abuse problem with marijuana.

“Opening up the opportunity for legal marijuana makes it more complex for our staff when a patient comes through the door,” he said.

Quinn has not said whether he would sign the bill, only that he was reviewing the legislation.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Maryland has also approved its use, but the program won’t be implemented until 2015.

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