Illinois Senate to vote on medical marijuana

March 01, 2006

Heather Gach, The Dispatch (IL)

A bill to allow patients with serious medical conditions to possess limited amounts of marijuana under a physician's supervision could go to vote before the Illinois Senate as early as today.

State Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, proposed legislation that would allow patients or their caregivers who are licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health to legally possess no more than eight cannabis plants for medical use.

A Senate committee Wednesday amended the bill, which originally was written to allow for 12 plants, and also increased the penalties for people transferring the plants.

Cullerton said the amendments "tighten" the bill and reinforce the fact that the plants are for the patients' use only.

"It's just really critical for people to understand that this bill is designed to help people who are ill and not in any way to encourage the use of or legalize marijuana for people who are not in that condition," Sen. Cullerton said.

Julie Falco, 40, of Chicago, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago, traveled to Springfield to lobby in support of the legislation. After trying more than 30 different pharmaceutical drugs, finding no relief and experiencing harsh side effects, Falco began smoking marijuana infrequently, but now said she ingests it daily in the form of brownies.

"I'm able to stand here right now today and talk to you because right now, I've eaten brownies. I've had them today, and I do it. And I live in fear that, yeah I'm going to be arrested for taking a medicine that's helping me and that terrifies me. ..." Ms. Falco said.

Ms. Falco said marijuana relieves her leg spasms and insomnia, and calms her bladder urgency and nerves. She said smoking marijuana gave her headaches, but the only side effect she's experienced since she began eating it is occasional dry mouth.

Dr. Christopher Fichtner, a psychiatrist in private practice and former state director of mental health said he supports patients trying marijuana for medical purposes after other medications and treatments have been tried and found unsuccessful.

"A number of patients receive benefit from the use of cannabis when other medications that are FDA approved have failed," Fichtner said. "We're certainly not advocating that cannabis is first line treatment for any of these conditions."

Judy Kreamer, president of Educating Voices, a Naperville-based national organization working to educate people on the dangers of drugs, said the legislation sends the wrong message to children about marijuana.

"If you tell a child that it's medicine and it's safe, what is their inclination?" Ms. Kreamer said.

Ms. Kreamer said that in fiscal year 2004, there were 32,961 marijuana-related treatment hospital admissions in Illinois.

"What is that going to go to when all of a sudden in our state, we have people claiming this is a medication?" she said.

 

Ms. Falco said a batch of brownies lasts her two weeks, and she adds about two ounces of marijuana to each batch, so she consumes about an ounce a week. Her doctor supports her. She is not married, does not have children, works from home doing several different jobs and is a board member of Illinois Drug Education and Legislative Reform.

Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo, said he would vote against the legislation.

"I'm an opponent," Sen. Sieben said. "It's never been proven by good science that there are health benefits to the use of marijuana."

Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville, said he wants to hear more debate before deciding for or against the legislation.

"I haven't heard both sides of the story, so I definitely want to hear the pro's and the con's and take it from there," Dahl said.

Ms. Kreamer also said she is concerned about allowing caregivers to handle the plants.

"When you have caregivers that are 18 years old, those people could be high school seniors, and what are they going to actually do with that marijuana they are cultivating?"

Dr. Fichtner said that since 1996 beginning with California, 11 states have passed laws protecting patients who use marijuana for medical purposes, and currently, 11 states, including Illinois, are working on similar legislation.



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