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Medical marijuana bill moves to Ill. Senate

Published: Saturday, April 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 10:11 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sarah Nader)
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Rob Robinson poses for a portrait April 19 near his home in Fox Lake. Robinson is a lymphoma survivor and proponent for the legalization of medical marijuana.

FOX LAKE – Just a month or so before Rob Robinson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, his brother-in-law, Greg Guntharp, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer.

As Guntharp’s cancer spread rapidly and the news only got worse, Robinson struggled with whether to offer Guntharp marijuana, which Robinson had been using recreationally for years but had been helping him with the nausea that followed chemotherapy.

Guntharp, a Spring Grove resident, was a deputy chief for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, where he had worked for 28 years, and Robinson didn’t know what he would think of Robinson’s use of the illegal substance.

Robinson didn’t offer it, and just seven months after being diagnosed, Guntharp died at the age of 50, leaving Robinson wondering whether he could have done more to help.

“I just thought, ‘Even if I couldn’t have saved him, could I have at least alleviated some of his suffering if I had had the courage to say something,’’’ he said. “When I didn’t, it really bothered me.”

Under a bill passed by the Illinois House earlier this month in a 61-57 vote, patients with “debilitating medical conditions” and a doctor’s prescription could apply for a license that would allow them or a caregiver to buy up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in a two-week period.

Robinson thinks it’s a good first step, but he does have some concerns, particularly that the law maintains a zero-tolerance policy for those driving with any amount of marijuana in their system, even if they’re not “under the influence.”

But state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, thinks it’s better to err on the side of caution and if changes need to be made, they can be addressed. The pilot program ends four years after it goes into effect.

Medical marijuana has come before the Illinois House before. In 2011, Franks and state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, voted against the proposed medical marijuana bill.

But with the restrictions laid out in this version – the bill is touted as the most stringent in the country by its proponents – both Franks and Tryon decided to vote “yes.”

Of the four representatives whose districts include parts of McHenry County, only state Rep. David McSweeney voted “no.”

“I’m just concerned about marijuana getting into the hands of the wrong people, especially children,” McSweeney said, adding that the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved it for medical purposes.

Under the proposed bill, the marijuana would have to be bought from one of the 60 dispensaries geographically dispersed throughout the state.

The state would track prescriptions in an effort to limit abuses, red-flagging doctors who seem to be prescribing a lot, Tryon said. Doctors also would have to have seen the patient at least twice in the previous year before they could write a prescription for marijuana.

The bill also limits the number of growers to 22, one per state police district. McHenry County is located in District 2, which also includes DeKalb, DuPage, Kane and Lake counties.

Local governments wouldn’t be able to prevent dispensaries or growers from coming to their communities but could set “reasonable zoning ordinances or resolutions.”

Some communities, including Lake in the Hills and Fox Lake, have put the issue on the radar for their planning and zoning commissions.

No discussions or hearings have taken place yet in Lake in the Hills, Community Development Director Dan Olson said. The idea was to get the issue out there, let the community know and have people start thinking about it.

If a bill is passed, communities would have to adjust their zoning ordinances and decide where these facilities would fit in, Olson said.

“I never would have voted for a bill that would have re-created what they have in California,” Tryon said.

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