On Feb. 3, Illinois Democratic Senator Michael Noland, a University of Illinois-Chicago graduate, introduced Senate Bill (SB) 0753, which proposes a major change to Illinois’s stance on marijuana.
Under SB 0753, the Cannabis Control Act is amended to allow people 21 years of age or older to possess cannabis, as long as the individual does not have more than 30 grams. Additionally, individuals 21 years of age or older can produce and possess five cannabis plants.
According to Dan Linn, Executive Director of Illinois’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the introduction of SB 0753 is a breakthrough in Illinois marijuana legislation.
“This is the first bill that would remove all criminal penalties for small amounts of cannabis and cannabis plants,” Linn said. “The last bill that was introduced like this was in the 1970s.”
If passed, Illinois would be the fifth state to legalize marijuana, as Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have already done so.
According to a report put forth by TIME magazine last month, 18 states will have legalized marijuana for recreational use by 2020. However, Illinois was not included on the list of 18 predicted states.
Linn strongly expressed the positives related to the legalization of marijuana by stating that legalization would “end another failed prohibition and injustice towards Americans’ liberties.”
Linn also believes legalizing marijuana would “save law enforcement resources to go after dangerous criminals.”
Despite the illegality of marijuana in 46 states, the drug still has many users.
In fact, Dr. Ann Melvin, who has her Ph.D in Rehabilitation and is a professor in Human Services, Alcohol and Substance Abuse at UIS, stated, “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug.”
Illinois has already taken steps to introduce marijuana into the public domain, starting in 2013 with a law allowing for the use of medical marijuana. Illinois is one of 23 states and D.C. to have passed a law allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Dr. Melvin does not deny the benefits of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the key chemical in marijuana that produces the drug’s psychoactive effects.
“THC-based drugs have been used to treat nausea and pain caused by HIV/AIDS and cancer,” Dr. Melvin said.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Tourette syndrome can also apply for permits in Illinois.
Linn expressed his approval of the passage of the medical marijuana bill by stating, “It is a step in the right direction and hopefully will be able to provide safe and legal access to this medicine for some seriously ill people in this state. “
Linn added that the medical marijuana legislation “has helped move the conversation about the legality of this plant in both the lawmaker’s opinion and the general public.”
Despite the passage of the medical marijuana law, NORML points out the program is currently non-operational.
The Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program’s website states approximately 14,000 citizens have started the patient registration process since the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) began accepting applications on Sept. 2, 2014. Altogether, the IDPH has approved approximately 1,000 patients.
Despite the approval of 1,000 patients, there are currently no medical marijuana dispensaries open in Illinois to meet their needs.
However, on Feb. 3, the State Journal-Register reported Gov. Bruce Rauner began issuing medical marijuana licenses to dispensaries and growers. Two of the state’s dispensaries will eventually call Springfield home.
Even though marijuana serves medicinal purposes, has support from advocacy groups such as NORML and has gained the attention of legislative bodies across the country, not everything with the drug is positive.
“Marijuana irritates the lungs, causing respiratory problems such as coughing, lung infections and frequent chest illnesses,” Dr. Melvin explained. “In addition, chronic marijuana usage has been associated with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.”
Dr. Melvin also expressed even more medical concern with the use of marijuana by young, college-aged students.
“Chronic use of marijuana during adolescence can affect normal brain development due to the brain not being fully developed until around the age of 24,” Dr. Melvin said. “NIDA discusses a study from New Zealand in which subjects who used marijuana heavily in their teen years showed an average loss of 8 IQ points from the age of 13 to 38.”
In the end, Dr. Melvin feels now is not the time for the legalization of recreational marijuana. “At this time, I feel the risks outweigh the benefits in terms of legalization of marijuana,” Dr. Melvin declared.
SB 0753 has undergone its first round of readings and has been referred to assignments in the Senate.
“I think if we can get it out of committee in the Senate we have a good shot of getting it through the Senate; however, the House is going to be tough and I am less optimistic about that chamber,” Linn concluded.