Illinois Senate committee OKs medical marijuana

2013-05-08T19:55:00Z Illinois Senate committee OKs medical marijuanaJohn O'Connor AP Political Writer nwitimes.com
May 08, 2013 7:55 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. | An Illinois Senate committee has approved a proposal that would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The Senate Executive Committee voted 10-5 Wednesday to send the measure to the full Senate. The proposal allows physicians to prescribe marijuana to patients who have been diagnosed with certain medical conditions. The measure creates a pilot program that limits the frequency and amount of marijuana patients can buy.

Medical marijuana consumers automatically consent to submit themselves to a sobriety field test should a police officer suspect they were driving under the influence of the drug. Some opponents say the test works for alcohol but not marijuana.

Supporters say marijuana can relieve continual pain without causing the harmful side effects of some prescription drugs.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association have opposed the legislation, saying they want blood and urine tests used in cases where marijuana use is suspected.

Field sobriety tests work for alcohol, but not pot, and legalizing medical use of marijuana would jeopardize Illinois' enviable record of reduced traffic deaths, they said in a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, state police and transportation officials, and the Senate sponsor of the measure.

The letter was hand-delivered to Quinn on Tuesday but The Associated Press was given a copy of it in advance of its public release Wednesday.

"Illinois is a leader in traffic safety. We're recognized in all the states as the leader and this just does not bode well for our success," said John Kennedy, executive director of Chiefs of Police. "I can see highway deaths going up because of it."

The measure won House approval 61-57 last month. It's intended to help people with specific illnesses, diseases and conditions receive pain relief without side effects rampant with some traditional medication.

The legislation states that "standardized field sobriety tests" approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can detect cannabis use, but "this is not a statement of fact," the letter to Quinn states.

Dan Riffle, of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said motorists driving under the influence of marijuana can be prosecuted in the same manner as those using more impairing pain medications. Medical marijuana users will be highlighted on driver's records available to police, he said, indicating they give consent to a field test.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the Democratic governor had not yet read the letter but said, "We're open-minded on this."

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