Medicinal marijuana bill stalled in Springfield

Governor's race could play a crucial role in passage
2010-06-14T00:05:00Z Medicinal marijuana bill stalled in SpringfieldBy Tey-Marie Astudillo - Medill News Service
June 14, 2010 12:05 am  • 

CHICAGO | James Antee is far from his days of 'young-gunning' and rock 'n'roll, but the 53-year-old father of five still enjoys playing his electric guitar when he can. 

Sometimes that's difficult for him though. For the past few years, Antee has been out of work and in deteriorating health, suffering from Avascular necrosis. The bones in his right leg are dying and damaging his knee joint. 

"Sometimes it just buckles out on me," he said.

He described it like the pain of a sprain -- only 20 times worse, and constant.

Doctors have prescribed him various pain medications, including Oxycontin, but none of them have helped with the pain. None except one.

"Marijuana has helped better than any other drug I've been given," he said.

In the Illinois state legislature is a bill called the Compassionate Use of Medicinal Cannabis Pilot Program Act. It would enable Antee -- and others whose conditions qualify -- to use medicinal marijuana if recommended by a doctor.

The physicians can only give a recommendation because, in order for them to issue a prescription, a drug must first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Marijuana has not.

The bill was passed by the State Senate on May 27, 2009, and now awaits a vote by the House Rules Committee.

Proponents of the bill had hoped it would have passed before the General Assembly left for a session break at the end of May, but the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said he couldn't get enough votes.

"That's because it's an election year and politicians are afraid to do what's right," said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois Cannabis Patients Association.

He thinks politics plays a crucial role in whether or not the bill will get passed.

If Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected, the bill will have more support than if Sen. Bill Brady wins because Brady is completely against the bill, he said.

Brady isn't the only one. A Gallup poll taken in October 2009 showed the majority of Americans, 54 percent, oppose legalizing marijuana.

Judy Kreamer is the president of Educating Voices, Inc., a national organization based in Illinois that advocates drug awareness.

"Marijuana is a harmful drug and to report anything else is irresponsible," she said.

Kreamer believes passing a bill like the one sitting in the state legislature will send mix messages to kids and is one of the reasons why marijuana use among teens is on the rise.

A report by the Partnership for a Drug Free America in March found the number of teens in grades 9-12 who used marijuana increased 19 percent increase, from 32 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2009.

Another reason Kreamer is against the bill is because of crime.

"We have a real problem in Chicago with violence and this would just create more," she said. "Why people don't recognize this is beyond me."

In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana and since then the amount of violent crimes in the state has decreased, but property crimes were on an increase for a while, according California's Office of Attorney General.

The way the Illinois bill is written, a landlord could not deny housing to tenants who might grow marijuana. Kreamer said this would lead to a proliferation of houses growing marijuana.

"These people (growers) often just buy houses in new developments and trash them within a year, bringing down the surrounding property values as well," she said.

Linn said that wouldn't necessarily happen here because the bill has increased penalties for people who abuse the law under the act, and no other state with medicinal marijuana has that clause, he said.

"It's one of the more stricter laws, except for New Jersey, which doesn't allow for any private growing," Linn said.

Under the Illinois law, if a person has a qualifying disabling disease he/she could grow up to three mature plants at once, or have a designated caregiver grow for them.

The law also allows for state licensed and regulated dispensaries that can have as many as three plants as they have per patient, but if a person is registered with a dispensary, they can't grow the marijuana themselves.

"Just one person would be able to grow 1,764 joints in a 60-day period," Kreamer said. "Who needs that many joints? All that extra pot is going to end up on the streets."

To ease his pain, Antee needs to smoke 7 to 8 marijuana cigarettes a day, depending on the potency of the marijuana, he said.

His doctors have prescribed him to take 80 milligrams of hydrocodone and 3,600 milligrams of muscle relaxer each day.

"But all they do is make me sleep," he said. "They don't help with the pain."

Antee said that another positive to smoking marijuana with his ailment is it gives him the ability to eat. 

"Without it I don't get hungry or the urge to eat because of all the pills," he said. 

Kreamer, who has testified before U.S. Congress against the use of medicinal marijuana, believes if people looked at the scales of Lady Justice and placed the arguments of the issues of each side on one scale, it would be clear this bill should fail.

"On one side you have a few people who are really sick and smoking pot may help, on the other side you literally have tens of thousands whose lives would be negatively impacted from legalizing the drug," she said.

The Illinois State Legislature reconvenes in the fall, but according to Lang, the earliest there would be a vote on the bill would be January 2011.

More Information on arguments for and against medicinal marijuana

-- Conditions exclusively covered by the Illinois bill include but are not limited to: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis c, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Chrohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, nail patella, extreme pain, wasting syndrome, severe nausea, seizures.

-- Physicians would be allowed to give patients recommendations, not prescriptions. Only the Food and Drug Administration can approve prescriptions.

-- In 2006, the FDA reported that it had definitively established that marijuana has no medical use or value.

-- The FDA has approved of Marinol.  This is a pill tablet with synthetic THC without the harmful side affects of smoking pot.

-- Illinois is one of 11 states with pending legislation or ballot measures to legalize medicinal marijuana.  There are currently 14 that have these laws already implemented.

-- There seems to be a split in the medical community on the benefits of medicinal marijuana. For example, the American College of Physicians supports the therapeutic role of marijuana, but the National Eye Institute doesn't, who says that from their research the drug has not helped patients with glaucoma as well as other FDA approved drugs have.

-- In the early 1900s, Cannabis was actually legal in the United States. But by 1931, 29 states had outlawed marijuana.

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