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Harsh political reality may blunt medical marijuana push
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Rep. Lou Lang


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Published: 4/18/2010 12:02 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - The suburban lawmaker pushing to legalize medical marijuana use in Illinois says he's received strong support from colleagues but still doesn't have the votes needed to pass the plan onto the governor's desk.

Skokie Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang said he's a few votes short of the 60 needed for approval in the Illinois House. He pegged the "yes" votes in the low 50s, though added he's had many more say they hope the plan passes, even if they don't plan to vote for it.

It's a politically tricky vote for numerous reasons. The proposal comes just months before lawmakers hit the campaign trail to seek re-election, at a time when few want to be on the record for politically risky votes, such as something often portrayed as legalizing pot.

As proposed, people suffering from diagnosed debilitating conditions would be able to legally able to use marijuana, which supporters say helps those suffering from numerous ailments cope with pain, restore appetite and otherwise improve their quality of life.

"It's about health care, it's not about drugs," Lang said.

Across the country, 14 states have taken similar steps.

This is not a new debate in Illinois. Similar proposals have been introduced and advanced at the Capitol for years. But so far not one has made it to the governor's desk. Lang's plan is one step away, which has brought it newfound attention.

The actual debates on this occurred last year. The Senate approved the idea last May and a House committee quickly followed, setting up what would be a final House floor vote. The only real deadline the proposal faces is the January adjournment of this set of lawmakers. Newly elected members are then sworn in and the process of passing laws resets and all previous proposals are relegated to the history books.

Illinois supporters said they've narrowly defined situations in which it can be used and carefully restricted amounts in response to a similar law in California, which supporters here said was "sloppily" drafted.

"These are all measures to avoid any imputation that this is a stealth legalization of marijuana," state Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, in pushing his proposal in the state Senate last year.

Opponents say the idea simply opens too many doors even the proposed restrictions aren't tight enough. For instance, there'd be no background checks on the people growing the marijuana.

"This is an invitation to trouble," Mattoon Republican state Sen. Dale Righter said in summarizing opposition last year.