Gov. Quinn signs medical marijuana law

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Thursday that will make the use of medical marijuana legal. The law makes Illinois the 21st state to make medical marijuana legal with some of the strongest regulations.

“This bill is a very carefully crafted bill to make sure it’s done right,” Quinn said at the signing ceremony of the bill at the University of Chicago’s Center for Care and Discovery. Quinn said that Illinois had learned from the experiences of other states that have similar bills.

House Bill 1 – the compassionate use of Medical Cannabis Act – will allow patients suffering from 35 medical conditions including cancer AIDS to purchase up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days.  

“Without this bill, the people you see here today and thousands of others were using oxycontin, hydrocodone and codeine to deal with their pain,” Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who was the first sponsor of the bill, said. “The medication that was supposed to help them actually ruined their lives.”

The bill has a special provision for veterans to ensure they have access to medical cannabis even if they would not be able to receive it from their federally funded VA doctor.

“We made a work around so that they can get what they need,” Lang said.

“I’m quite proud of our bill; we are the first state to take into consideration our veterans,” Jim Champion, a veteran of the 101st airborne who uses cannabis for pain relief from his multiple sclerosis, said. “This isn’t a ‘Cheech and Chong’ bill, this is an actual model for the rest of the United States.”

The new law allows for 22 cultivation centers – one for each state police district that will have to follow strict restriction – and 24-hour surveillance and inventory control. The cultivation centers will also have to comply with local zoning laws and be located at least 2,500 feet from daycare centers of schools.

Unlike laws in other states, like Washington and Colorado, patients and caregivers will not be allowed to cultivate their own cannabis. The law also states that there will be no more than 60 dispensaries in the state. Cannabis will be taxed the same rate as pharmaceuticals at one percent.

“It’s the most controlled and highly regulated bill in the country,” Lang said.

While the law will make medical marijuana legal within Illinois, it will remain a banned substance by the federal government.

According to the White House’s website, the FDA has not found smoked marijuana to be an either safe or effective treatment for any condition. It also goes on to say that the Administration opposes drug legalization because it threatens the public health.

In California – where medical marijuana is also legal – the Drug Enforcement Agency has been known to raid both dispensaries and cultivation centers. Lang, however, is not worried about federal intervention in Illinois because of the tight regulations that are being put on the production and distribution of the marijuana.  

The law will take effect Jan. 1, 2014 and is a four-year pilot program.