Mt. Vernon Register-News

December 25, 2013

Medical marijuana bill will be law Jan. 1

The Register-News

---- — Editor's note: This is the final story in a two-part series on new laws set to be enacted in 2014.

MT. VERNON — The state's new medical marijuana law is set to go into effect Jan. 1, but it likely won't be until next fall or winter that the legislation is fully implemented, said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

“The critical importance of this legislation is to provide a better quality of life for some very sick people in the State of Illinois,” said Lang, the lead sponsor of the new law — House Bill 1.

The marijuana legislation is one of more than 200 new state laws set to be enacted next year.

After Jan. 1, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and the Illinois Department of Agriculture will have 120 days to draft rules regarding House Bill 1.

These rules include developing a registry of patients who are allowed to use marijuana, and creating regulations governing medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries, states a document from the Illinois Senate Republicans outlining the new laws for 2014.

“Starting Jan. 1, the rule-making process will begin,” Lang said.

The new legislation, signed into law last summer, permits authorized patients to use medical marijuana grown by an approved cultivation center and purchased from a registered dispensary, the Senate Republicans document states.

House Bill 1 allows for 22 cultivation centers and 60 dispensaries in Illinois, Lang said. Dispensaries can be established “virtually anywhere,” but only one cultivation center per state police district is allowed, he said.

Roughly 30 specific diseases and conditions are covered under the new law, meaning doctors will not be able to prescribe the drug for more general conditions like “chronic pain” or “severe nausea,” the document states.

Still, the measure has sparked controversy. State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said he voted against the bill because he believes it could lead to the legalization of marijuana in Illinois.

“I've watched it in other states,” Luechtefeld said. “It is the first step to opening up the legalization of marijuana.”

Also, he said doctors have identified alternative drugs to marijuana that can be used to treat the same conditions.

House Bill 1 does conflict with the federal law prohibiting marijuana. Even so, Lang said he does not anticipate a problem with law enforcement.

“I think Illinois law enforcement will follow the Illinois law,” Lang said.

Lang also pointed out that federal government officials have stated they have “no desire to prosecute sick people.”

Medical marijuana facilities that have been shut down by the federal government in the past have mainly been those violating state law by growing far more than they could legally sell, Lang said.

Two other major new laws set to go into effect Jan. 1 are Senate Bills 2380 and 2381.

These pieces of legislation are designed to prohibit state grant dollars from being used for political purposes and to make it easier to keep track of how state grants are used, states a news release from State Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, the lead sponsor of both laws.

The new laws were introduced following a 2012 CNN investigation that allegedly revealed how taxpayer-financed grant funding in Illinois was being used for “questionable activities,” the release states.

The grant funding in question was for the Governor's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative program. Funding was allegedly used to pay teenagers to march in a parade with the Governor, attend yoga classes, take field trips to museums and more, the release states.

Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Sen. Radogno, said prior to the new legislation, state law was not specific on the use of grant funding for political purposes. Senate Bill 2380 corrects that problem by setting up clear restrictions, Schuh said.

Senate Bill 2381 requires a database to be established for public view that shows how the state is using its grant funding and what organizations are receiving money, Schuh said.

“By having a statewide database, it'll make it easier for the public to see how the state is using its grants,” Schuh said.

Representatives of the Governor's Office were unavailable for comment.