Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn should quickly sign the medical marijuana bill on his desk, affirming the consensus of patients suffering from crippling illness, their physicians and faith leaders who see marijuana as an effective, affordable treatment.
Then Illinois can begin the tough, but necessary work to decriminalize, regulate and tax a drug whose biggest public threat remains draconian laws and exploitive enforcement.
The medical marijuana bill awaiting the governor’s signature allows the state health department to issue cards to people with a physician’s recommendation. Those cards permit patients up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from a limited number of licensed dispensaries. It’s a logical, compassionate bill that would have been law years ago if up to most physicians.
The American College of Physicians in 2008 joined the fight to remove marijuana from the list of criminal narcotics and introduce it into medical therapy and research. Study after study attest to the specific benefits of marijuana to treat nausea and anxiety, common symptoms for cancer patients and those enduring nerve and muscle disorders.
The Illinois bill is intended to restrict marijuana use to ill patients and prevent the sham dispensaries in other states that issue prescriptions for almost any reason. Illinois Quad-City Reps. Pat Verschoore and Mike Smiddy supported it. Sen. Mike Jacobs declined to cast a vote.
But this bill, like other laws, still creates an awful conflict that shields those prescribed marijuana, but allows state and federal prosecution for those who process and ship it. Illegal shipments are nabbed almost weekly on Interstate 80, where state troopers use minor traffic offenses to target suspected traffickers. We’ve read accounts where searches are conducted on motorists pulled over for driving five miles over the interstate speed limit.
The trafficking enforcement is very lucrative for law enforcement agencies who are able to seize cash and property without obstruction from suspects, some of whom never face criminal prosecution. We can’t blame police; they deploy resources for the most lucrative busts. Nabbing marijuana runners on I-80 is akin to catching fish in a barrel.
Instead of sustaining this cat-and-mouse game, legislators should decriminalize marijuana use as the first step toward regulating and taxing it.
Police still can be on the lookout for impaired drivers. Addiction counselors still can provide treatment for excessive marijuana users, who comprise just a fraction of those seeking help to escape alcohol addiction.
For Illinois, drug law reform begins with the governor’s signature on a bill that convinced majorities in both the House and Senate, follows the advice of major physician groups and is supported by at least six mainline American faith denominations.