Marijuana bill set aside before it gets a hearing

March 02, 2004

Lesley Griffy, Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD -- A House panel Tuesday shelved legislation allowing some terminally ill patients access to marijuana amid concerns about street availability of illegal drugs.

The House Health Care Availability and Access Committee sent the politically sensitive election-year bill to a subcommittee -- equivalent to a legislative wasteland -- before hearing testimony.

But the bill's sponsor Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago) said he hopes to keep the measure alive.

'I am not giving up on this,' McKeon said, adding some legislators saw the measure as a crime issue rather than a bill about health care.

Opponents, including members of the Bush administration's drug control center and state religious organizations, say the bill would be impossible to enforce and would increase drug abuse.

'One of the serious side effects here is one that is on society as a whole, which would make this crude plant available to children, increasing addiction,' said Andrea Barthwell, who works on drug control policy for the Bush administration.

Supporters and detractors delivered emotional testimony after the committee's decision. Ronald Shaw, a Lincoln Park resident who is HIV positive, said the measure would keep him from breaking the law by allowing his doctor to approve a permit for him to possess an ounce of the drug. Current law allows doctors to prescribe marijuana, but there's no provision for legal possession by patients.

Shaw, 38, said medical marijuana is not a gateway drug or a child's game for those who need it. 'I am not looking for a cheap high. I am looking for a way to eat and I am looking for the most effective way to curb my nausea,' he said.

Barthwell touted the availability of Marinol, an FDA-approved pill that uses the active ingredient in marijuana -- THC -- to stop nausea.

But in order to keep food -- and his medicine -- down, Shaw says he has to smoke marijuana.

'I've had to take the pill four, five, six times in one morning, because I've thrown it up and I've thrown it up again,' Shaw said.



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