Springfield, IL -- The Illinois House voted 61-57 today to pass HB1, the "Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act," which creates a framework to protect physicians and certain qualified medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution. HB1, which is scheduled to sunset in four years, was introduced in January by State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and is the latest attempt by the legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill. Similar legislation passed the Senate in 2009, but was defeated in the House. Patient advocates have raised a number of problems with the bill, and plan to seek amendments in the Senate.
"While we're pleased with Illinois legislators for taking action on medical marijuana, the House neglected to address some of the most pressing needs facing patients today," said Mike Liszewski, Policy Director with Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana patient advocacy group. "We'll do our best to improve the bill in the Senate, but even if it's enacted advocates will be forced to return to Springfield in 2017 to pass another bill."
HB1 would allow patients with a "debilitating medical condition" to obtain approval from a physician to use medical marijuana, which would then entitle qualifying patients to possess 2.5 ounces for a 2-week period. Patients would not be able to cultivate the marijuana themselves as with most state laws, but they could obtain it from one of the state's 60 "registered dispensing organizations," which would be supplied by 22 "licensed cultivation centers." HB1 would also tax the sale of medical marijuana at 7 percent.
Patient advocates have a number of concerns with HB1 that were voiced, but largely ignored, during deliberations in the House. Chief among the concerns is that the bill would continue to criminalize patients growing their own medicine, a right afforded to most patients covered by state medical marijuana laws in the U.S. It's expected that the cost of obtaining marijuana from a "dispensing organization" will be prohibitively expensive for thousands of patients. HB1 also imposes a 7 percent tax on the sale of medical marijuana, fails to establish an affirmative defense for patients if they're arrested, and gives police unfettered access to patient records. Advocates did, however, manage to win an amendment that exempted qualified patients from the state's zero-tolerance DUID law.
Passage of HB1 by the House comes only a day after nearly 250 Illinois physicians pledged their support for legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Three physicians held a press conference Tuesday, calling on policymakers to push through legislation. Further indication that state officials are simply catching up with medical science and popular will was found in a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll released in February, showing that more than 63 percent of Illinois voters support the legalization of medical marijuana.
HB1, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/98/HB/PDF/09800HB0001eng.pdf