Illinois House member Lou Lang (D-Skokie) has been pushing two controversial bills in recent years: the expansion of Illinois gaming and the legalization of medical marijuana.
Whenever asked about the possibility of Illinois becoming the nineteenth state to legalize the green leafy substance, Lang is always optimistic. Two years ago, he told Patch he only needed to secure "two or three" votes to pass the bill. That never came to fruition.
However, other states have recently passed similar bills and Lang hopes Illinois could be the 19th state to legalize the drug for medicinal use. Recently, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia passed medicinal marijuana laws. Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington have actually legalized recreational marijuana use during the November general election.
But for Lang the legalization of medical marijuana isn't about recreation use - it's about helping people who can benefit tremendously from the drug.
"Nobody should fear the bill," Lang told Patch. "This is about quality of life for people."
Lang said he "strongly believes" that lawmakers will be voting on the bill this January, a month known by many as the "lame duck session," where elected officials can vote on a particular bill just before the end of his or her tenure.
"Illinois would be the nineteenth state to pass the bill (the District of Columbia also recently passed the bill)," Lang said. "And of all of those, Illinois will be the most tightly regulated."
What are some of those regulations? According to House Bill 0030:
- Repeal the program after three years. This means the use of medical marijuana would enter a three year pilot program to see how effective the bill is working and, if any tweaks or adjustments need to be made for the future.
- People will not be allowed to drive for six hours after consuming marijuana.
- It would be illegal for marijuana dispensaries to make campaign contributions.
- Those looking to dispense medical marijuana would have to pay a $5,000 non-refundable application fee and a $20,000 certificate fee.
- If passed, a person who can legally smoke medical marijuana can have no more than two ounces of dried usable cannabis at any given time.
- If a caregiver or patient dispenses - or sells - cannabis illegally they will face a penalty of not more than two years in prison and a fine not more than $2,000.
- Also, see PDF image attached above.
Lang said he is "very close" to securing the 60 votes needed to pass the measure to the Senate. If the bill arrives on the Senate's floor, many experts believe they will approve the measure.
In May 2011, Lang's medical marijuana bill received 53 of the 60 votes needed to pass. In November 2010, the bill once again fell short by seven votes and failed to pass to the Senate.
"How do you turn down the people who are sick? Who are in pain." Lang said. "People who haven't been able to have a quality life. This is not a bill about drugs. This is a bill about health care."