SPRINGFIELD — Sick people in Illinois who want to use medical marijuana are in for a long, regulated wait.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Sick people in Illinois who want to use medical marijuana are in for a long, regulated wait.

The Illinois House approved what state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, called a plan that’s about medicine “not about getting high.”

“This is the most controlled and highly regulated bill ever drafted, ever written in the United States of America,” Lang told lawmakers Wednesday.

The plan would allow only people suffering from 33 serious illnesses — such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Chron’s disease and glaucoma — to receive medical marijuana.

But unlike many of the 20 other states that allow the medicinal drug, Illinois would have no prescription.

Patients would go to their doctor and prove their medical condition is real. Then, they might be referred to Illinois’ Public Health Department.

“This is not about headaches or bad backs,” Lang explained on the House floor. “This is not about made-up conditions.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health would conduct a background check on the patient and, if all goes well, the state would allow the patient to buy marijuana from one of 60 dispensaries across the state.

“It will be one year before anyone in the state is licensed to grow medical marijuana,” Lang said. “And it’ll be a year and a half before anyone has it in their hands.”

Indeed, Lang said, the medical marijuana proposal is just the beginning of the process. Illinois will have to write rules for marijuana growers — there will be only 22 licensed growers — and determine how to license those growers and dispensary owners.

But all of the rules and regulations, safeguards and penalties in Lang’s legislation did not assuage some lawmakers.

“Every state that has medical marijuana has had problems with it,” state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said Tuesday.

“I will guarantee you that we will be back adjusting this legislation because of the problems that occur,” Bost added. “Or we will be back on this floor to go ahead and move for the legalization of marijuana.”

Other opponents said police officers would have trouble enforcing the law, or they worried children would steal their parents’ stash.

Lang said kids were more likely to “raid granny’s medicine chest for pills,” and added that “any high school student” who wants to smoke marijuana can easily buy it now.

Lawmakers approved the medical marijuana legislation by a close vote, 61-57, and the bill now heads to the Illinois Senate. Lang has tried for years to find the votes for medical marijuana,but  this is the first time he found them.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Gov. Pat Quinn said he’s  “open minded” about medical marijuana, mainly because a wounded veteran told the governor marijuana brownies helped him recover from his war wounds.

State Reps. Robyn Gabel of Evanston and Laura Fine of Glenview both voted in favor of the medical marijuana bill.

Contact reporter Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.

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