Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

May 10, 2013

Legislators against legalizing medical marijuana

Bill Grimes Daily News
Effingham Daily News

---- — While local legislators predict the Illinois Senate has the votes needed to pass a proposed medical marijuana bill, those same legislators are taking a dim view of the proposal that would legalize a person with specific medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS, the ability to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of it during a 14-day period.

The House has already approved such a measure and if the Senate and Quinn sign off on the bill, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program would be created for a four-year period, after which time it would be re-evaluated.

While the Illinois House narrowly voted for the bill, 61-57, area legislators David Reis, R-Ste. Marie; John Cavaletto, R-Salem; and Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, did not.

Reis said medical marijuana initiatives are proven failures in some of the other 18 states that allow the substance to be used for medical purposes.

“This has been a failure in California and a failure in Colorado,” Reis said. “Why do we want to repeat those same failures?

“The vast majority of people in my district feel like this is the wrong message to send,” Reis added.

Halbrook said he was also concerned about the message that passing House Bill 1 would send.

“I think it tells our kids this product is safe,” Halbrook said.

Halbrook said he also objected that medicinal marijuana would not be managed through licensed pharmacies. Nor, he said, was there any way for police to tell whether a driver was under the influence of it while driving without a blood test.

Cavaletto said the bill is nothing more than an excuse to make marijuana more acceptable in Illinois society.

“There’s no way to control it,” he said. “The oversight is not there. I think it’s just an excuse to open up the state and make it more liberal.”

The Senate offered a first reading on the bill April 18. Wednesday, the Senate’s Executive Committee voted 10-5 to pass the bill onto the full Senate for further consideration.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, was one of the five Executive Committee members who voted against moving the bill to the full Senate.

Righter said he has a variety of reasons for opposing the bill.

“First, there is considerable evidence in other states that the rate of young people illegally using marijuana is higher in states that have medical marijuana legally available,” Righter said. “Secondly, we are sending a message that ‘this is OK, this is safe.’

“I don’t think I want to be sending that message to young people,” Righter added.

Righter said most people seeking the benefits of medical marijuana could derive similar benefits from Marinol, a legal drug derived from THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, that is often prescribed to cancer patients in an effort to mitigate the effects of chemotherapy. The senator also noted there was little oversight folded into the bill.

“There isn’t going to be FDA testing,” he said. “In fact, there is nothing in this bill regulating the safety of this product.”

One of Righter’s Senate colleagues, Lebanon Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter, said the rights of parents to keep their children away from illegal drugs outweigh the needs of patients who can already have cannabinoids prescribed to them for various purposes.

“I’m sure the debate will include numerous stories about people in pain who could experience relief,” McCarter said. “Those are very touching stories. But there are just as many touching stories of parents who have seen marijuana use as an introduction to addiction that can result in death.”

McCarter’s daughter Amber died in 2006 from a drug overdose. The senator declined to discuss specifics of his daughter’s case, but he said he would encourage his fellow senators to vote against the initiative.

“I think we would be taking Illinois down the wrong road once again,” he said.

The bill’s chief Senate sponsor Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, a former state’s attorney, did not respond to repeated calls from the Daily News.

A spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn said via email the governor is keeping an open mind about the issue.

“He (Quinn) has met with veterans suffering from war wounds to discuss the issue, and we are monitoring the bill closely,” said Grant Klinzman.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.