Illinois statehouse panel to hear medical marijuana plan

March 01, 2004

Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD -- An election-year fight over prescribing marijuana for medicinal purposes is brewing at the Statehouse, pitting the White House against AIDS and cancer activists.

Today could represent the first test of state legislation sponsored by Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago) to allow anyone diagnosed with a debilitating illness to possess six marijuana plants and an ounce of usable marijuana without fear of prosecution.

Under the legislation, users would have to be enrolled with the state Department of Human Services, which would issue registry cards.

The initiative, which is before a House panel today, would build upon a 1978 state law that permits doctors to dispense marijuana for glaucoma and cancer patients and for "such other procedures certified to be medically necessary."

"It clearly is effective for relief of nausea, vomiting and appetite loss in some patients whether the result of the illness or the common side effects of cancer therapy or AIDS medications," said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C., group pushing similar legislation in five other states.

Critics, however, contend there are numerous other drugs that help ease symptoms of cancer or AIDS therapy and that allowing legalization of the drug for medical purposes would accelerate the spread of illegal drugs to teens and others.

Opponents expected today in Springfield include Dr. Andrea Barthwell, deputy director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Illinois Sheriffs Association and Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.

"Our concern is if marijuana is perceived as a medicine, youth will no longer see any harm to this drug," said Anita Bedell, Illinois Church Action's executive director. "This isn't something the Legislature should wade into."

The matter, House Bill 4868, is expected to be heard in the House Health Care Availability and Access Committee. The legislation can be viewed on the General Assembly's Web site:

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