Part 2: Will recreational marijuana be next in Illinois?

January 8, 2014

By Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O’Neill –

Although Colorado on January 1st went a few steps beyond the rest of the 19 other states and the District of Columbia that have legalized cannabis (marijuana) for patient use, Illinois, in what was noted as the most high-profile of all the new laws taking effect in the state, on January 1st became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana.

It was on August 2, 2013, that Governor Quinn signed the bill legalizing medicinal marijuana at the University of Chicago Center or Care and Discovery. After decades of resistance, a long-time sponsor of bills to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, Lou Lang (D-Chicago) finally got the votes he needed when several Republicans joined forces with Democrats to pass medical marijuana, disregarding fears expressed by law enforcement officials that unused pot will be sold to teens. Also noted at the time were the mixed message it would send to kids, and the problem facing suburban zoning boards who’d rather not have pot shops pop up on Main Street.

As related in the Chicago Tribune, January 1st ushered in the official start of a four-year trial program that would allow patients with certain chronic illnesses to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana (Marijuana possession remains a federal crime until Congress changes the Controlled Substance Act which is supposed to trump state law.).

Even so Illinoisans sick enough to quality for using the drug may have to wait months before they can begin to do so. Rules are now being worked out by the Department of Public Health, the Department of Agriculture, and Department of Financial and Professional Regulation that must be submitted to a bipartisan legislative panel by May 1 for clarification of the law. Fine tuning will include: Ailments covered beyond the 40 explicit conditions spelled out in the law, who can apply for licenses to open a dispensary or cultivation center, and what constitutes a physician-patient relationship. Until formulated and submitted, full implementation of the medical marijuana program is likely to be delayed until the fall or winter of this year.

Supporters insist that Illinois’ medical marijuana law is among the toughest in the nation. Twenty-two grow centers will be set up (one for each state police district) and 60 dispensaries spread throughout the state. State regulators will determine where growers and sellers locate. Although many suburbs in Thorner’s home county of Lake — in anticipation of the law’s directives — have already put in place strict zoning laws to limit where marijuana could be sold or grown, local officials can’t prevent such businesses from opening in their towns.

When medical marijuana card holder “patients” are legally able to get the product, they will be allowed up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks. Also permitted is the buying of marijuana baked into brownies and muffins, etc.

Patients will pay a 1 percent tax on the purchase of cannabis, as they would when buying other medications. On the business side, the state will impose a 7 percent tax on cultivation center sales. The proceeds will be used to underwrite the costs of running the medical cannabis program. If any money is left over, it’s supposed to be used on crime prevention programs.

An excellent article written by Mick Dumke was published on July 24, 2013, in the Chicago Reader in anticipation of Quinn’ signing of Illinois’ medical marijuana bill. In the weeds of the state’s medical marijuana law pulls no punches. It lays out what the law says, what it doesn’t, and what that means for patients and potheads alike here in Illinois and in any other state who has or is thinking about going the way of Illinois or all the way like in Colorado. A prediction made was that “Illinois’ new cannabis program would help some ill patients, but its many rules, restrictions, and uncertainties are a real buzz kill.”

Compassion and mercy, not the ill effects that young people could experience when smoking pot, dominated the thoughts of more than a few of the nine Illinois House Republicans who stepped forward to give State Rep Lou Lang the votes he needed to legalize medical pot in April of last year. This included Tom Cross, then Republican Minority Speaker of the House.

It was easy going for the Senate to approve the medical marijuana bill a month later. Senator Jim Oberweis received much grief when he voted “yes.”

For those who dismiss research into how teen pot use could hurt brain and memory, a recent NBC News Health Report negated this false assumption. According to Matthew Smith who led the research team at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago:

We see that adolescents are at a very vulnerable stage neurodevelopmentally. And if you throw stuff into the brain that’s not supposed to be there, there are long-term implications for their development.

Consider also this study published in March of 2013 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which documents marijuana’s lasting effects on the brain. Evident is that Illinois legislators of either party didn’t consider this or any other study for guidance on how to view the medical marijuana issue before voting to sanction medical marijuana.

The message inherent in multiple supporting studies is clear. Regular marijuana use in adolescence is part of a cluster of behaviors that can produce enduring detrimental effects and alter the trajectory of a young persons life and cause long-lasting changes in the hippocampus, a brain area critical for learning and memory. Teen marijuana use is linked to school dropout, other drug use, mental health problems, etc.

But why dwell on teen use of marijuana during their high school years, as children under 18 in Illinois can’t be prescribed pot for pain as a patient?

The following should serve as a wake up call. The proportion of American teens who believe smoking pot is harmful has been declining for the past several years, as it has with adults. This trend has resulted in a steady rise in the use of the drugs by teens. The current number of regular marijuana users (about 1 in 15 high school seniors in 2013) and the good possibility of this number increasing with marijuana legalization, makes it imperative not to divert attention from the central point, that regular marijuana use stands to jeopardize a young person’s chances of success — in school and in life.

And what about the 2-1/2 ounces of marijuana available for purchase every two weeks for medicinal purposes? This amounts to two small sandwich bags of marijuana.

Curious as to how many joints 2-1/2 ounces would make, an article published at Illinois Review on Monday, April 22, 2012, presented these stats:

…with cannabis at an average potency, 1.25 ounces could make 75 joints per weeks, or over 10 joints a day. 10 joints a day is unusually high for even the most experienced pot smokers, according to a poll taken on Cannabis.com.

Since Illinois is Illinois, with a stellar history of corruption, it is not unreasonable to predict that situations involving fraud, unscrupulous doctors, and the sharing of unused marijuana with teens by patients will be the products of Illinois’ New Year’s medical marijuana law, despite supporters who insist the law is among the toughest in the nation.

Crime surrounding the legalization of medical marijuana on January 1st has already begun. On December 17 state regulators alleged that a doctor misled potential patients by offering “pre-approval” for medical marijuana through a Chicago clinic.

Part 1: http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2014/01/will-illinois-new-marijuana-law-duplicate-the-results-in-co-and-ca.html

Part 2: http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2014/01/part-2-medical-marijuana-legalized-in-illinois-but-will-recreational-marijuana-be-next.html#more

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