In Illinois, the legislature recently convened its special session to complete unfinished business before the new legislature convenes early next year. While normally a dull, drab caretaking effort to tie up loose ends, the special session opened with a fiery battle for a reaffirmation of Illinois’ state sovereignty. The contentious issue debated was that of the partial nullification of Federal narcotics laws, specifically regarding the medicinal use of cannabis.
The Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (SB 1381) had already cleared the Senate earlier this year by a thin margin of 30-28. Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie) is spearheading the bill’s passage in the House. An outspoken advocate of protecting patients and their physicians and caregivers, Lang has successfully stewarded SB 1381 through the committee process. He brought the bill to the House floor for a vote on the first day of the special session, but pulled it when it seemed headed for defeat with 53 for, 59 against, and 1 abstention.
SB 1381 is as much about reasserting state sovereignty in the face of Federal overreach as it is about compassion. This interposition is made clear in the language of the bill. Referring to Section 5, Paragraph (g):
“The people of the State of Illinois declare that they enact this Act pursuant to the police power to protect the health of its citizens that is reserved to the State of Illinois and its people under the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
If passed, SB 1381 would be one of the most restricted medical cannabis programs in the Union. It strictly defines conditions for qualifying patients, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and Crohn’s disease. Patients would have to present a recommendation from their physicians to the Department of Public Health in order to receive a registration card for themselves and, if need be, their caregivers. Patients and/or their caregivers would not be allowed to possess more than two ounces of cannabis in a sixty-day period, and could only grow up to six plants (three of which may be mature) within a closed, locked area.
Restrictions are included to prevent patients from passing off their medicine to non-qualified users, from possessing or using their medicine on school grounds or busses or correctional facilities, or being under the influence of their medicine while operating motor vehicles and other heavy machinery. The most restrictive aspect of this program is that it is only a pilot, and comes with a three-year sunset clause; if the legislature does not reauthorize it, the program dies.
Despite lacking a few votes for passage, all hope is not lost for Illinois’ ill. The legislature is now on break for winter holiday, and will reconvene for a few days in January before transitioning to the new legislative session. This gives concerned citizens time to put pressure on Springfield to stand up against Federal injustice and protect Illinois’ most vulnerable members.
Medical cannabis is already a reality in fifteen states and the District of Columbia. Naysayers need only look across the lake to neighboring Michigan to see how a well-developed, well-regulated program can serve the needs of patients while denying access to recreational users. Additionally, cash-strapped Illinois stands to make money through registration fees while saving money by redirecting law enforcement and judiciary resources to more serious crimes and freeing up space in its prisons for more serious offenders.
Time is running short and Illinois’ medical cannabis bill is coming down to the wire. Representative Lou Lang needs your help; sick and dying Illinoisans need your help. Governor Pat Quinn supports this bill, and has said he would sign it if it makes it to his desk. It is up to YOU to make that happen. Please contact your state Representatives and urge them to support this legislation, for compassion and for reclaiming Illinois’ sovereignty.