Medical pot passes Senate

February 20, 2006

Bridget Maiellaro , Daily Illini

The Illinois Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed Senate Bill 2568 legalizing medical marijuana 6-5 on Feb. 15. If the bill passes the General Assembly, Illinois will become the twelfth state to protect patients from arrest for medical marijuana with their doctor's recommendations. "It's an enormous step forward," said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Similar legislation was brought to the committee before, but it went nowhere."

The medical marijuana act will allow people with serious illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS to use and grow their own marijuana for medical purposes with physician approval. It will also enable patients or their caregivers to possess no more than 12 cannabis plants, each producing up to one pound of marijuana.

Judy Kramer, president of Educating Voices Inc., a national not-for-profit volunteer drug prevention organization, is disappointed that the bill passed through the Illinois committee. Kramer believes that there are problems with patients growing marijuana in their back yard.

"You won't know what exactly is in (the marijuana) unless you send it in to some highly sophisticated lab," Kramer said. "You don't know how well it works with any other problems you may be having. You don't know the chemical composition or quality."

In 2004, there were 11,223 marijuana users admitted to treatment centers in Cook County and 32,961 marijuana treatment admissions in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. No information was found for Champaign County.

"It represents a dramatic increase of marijuana admissions from 2001 to 2004," Kramer said. "If you tell people (marijuana) is medicine, they become addicted. Where are the resources in the state to fund for those with addictions?"

Compared to most other drugs, marijuana dependence is less severe, but it does exist, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a non-profit science-based advice organization. Their studies also show that while other medications may be more effective in aiding those with serious illnesses, they are not equally effective in all patients.

However, studies also show that regular smoking lessens a smoker's defense system by weakening various natural immune mechanisms, according to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Their research shows that marijuana use can even accelerate the progression of HIV to full-blown AIDS and increase the occurrence of infections.

Anzalone-Liszt Research Inc., a national public opinion polling firm, conducted a statewide telephone poll on Feb. 10-13, asking Illinoisans if they would support the legislation. The poll found that 62 percent would support the bill, 28 percent were opposed, and 10 percent were undecided. The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest non-profit marijuana policy reform organization in the United States, funded the poll.

"We wanted to confirm what the level of public support was," Mirken said. "We wanted to quantify something recent and solid to show elected officials. They think it's controversial. It's not. The recent data will show them."

Kramer said she feels that the telephone poll had little significance.

"If I phrase a question in a certain manner, I can get people to say what I want," Kramer said.

Sen. John Cullerton (D- Chicago) introduced the Medical Cannabis Act to the Illinois General Assembly in January.

"The more states that pass a law, the more likely others are to also pass the same law, as long as there are more benefits than disadvantages," said Jennifer Brown, senior in ACES.


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