Sen. Frerichs and Rep. Jakobsson Vote to Send Medical Cannabis Users to Jail

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lives in Chicago and is an
alum of Illinois State University,
where she graduated
in Communications
and played in a band
called New Position. She
was singing live on stage
in Bloomington-Normal when she suddenly
found herself unable to move her arm.
The whole left side of her body stiffened.
Her legs felt tight, and she became shaky
and weak. She wondered what was happening
to her as her bandmates carried her,
bewildered, off the stage.
After a series of hospitalizations and
inconclusive tests, Julie was finally told
that she had multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease
with no known cause or cure. That
was all she was told. Her doctor simply
gave her a book abut MS and told her to go
home and rest.
This happened in 1986, when she was 20
years old. Let me tell you about what her life
is like currently, 21 years later. It is as you
might imagine for an MS patient. She suffers
from severe pain, but she is able to live alone
and generally take care of herself. She sometimes
uses a wheelchair and sometimes
hunches over a walker, dragging each leg
with each step. In her words, each step is like
dragging through deep snow while hiking up
the side of a mountain. The mornings are the
worst for her because she wakes up with her
tightened legs in pain every day. But she manages
and, as anyone who knows her will tell
you, she is a fun, spunky, and generally
happy person to be around. She takes exactly
two medications and experiences very few
side effects, none of them especially intrusive.
Now let me tell you what her life was like
before she began eating cannabis brownies
regularly. She tried several pharmaceuticals,
and none of them provided the degree of relief
she currently experiences. For the harsh side
effects, doctors prescribed other pharmaceuticals
that produced further side effects. For
example, for drugs that caused depression as
a side effect, she was prescribed antidepressants,
which carried their own side effects, for
which she was prescribed more drugs. At one
point, she was trying more than thirty different
pharmaceuticals, each with their own side
effects. She would wake up with massive
headaches and flu-like symptoms every day
plus constipation, and these were side effects
on top of the MS symptoms. She became
severely depressed to the point of being
unable to wake up. The costs of the drugs
were not cheap. She could barely keep up
with the cycle of drugs treating side effects of
drugs treating other side effects of drugs that
were not helping with MS symptoms. Then
she read about cannabis as a treatment for
MS, and tried inhaling cannabis, which did
not lead to a great improvement. Then she
tried cannabis brownies, and experienced
such a rapid improvement that she has been
able to wean herself off all the pharmaceuticals
except an occasional
At this point, there is very little
serious debate about whether
cannabis has medical value (if you
would like to learn more, do a
review of “cannabinoid” in medical
literature), but the legal status of
medical cannabis is a source of much
confusion. In the rest of this article,
I’d like to summarize the federal and
state-specific legal status of cannabis.
At the federal level, medical
cannabis remains illegal. Period. At
the state level, however, twelve
states including Alaska, California,
Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana,
Nevada, Oregon, Rhode
Island, Vermont, and Washington,
have passed laws permitting the
medical use of cannabis. Even in
those states, patients are subject to
federal prosecution, according to
the Supreme Court’s decision in
Gonzalez v. Raich (2005). But
patients in those states enjoy varying
degrees of day-to-day legal protection
while they use their medicine.
Putting aside the states that explicitly allow
the medical use of cannabis with a doctor’s
recommendation, thirty-five states plus the
District of Colombia have passed legislation
that recognize cannabis’s medicinal value.
One of these states is—surprise—Illinois!
Section 11 of our own state’s Cannabis Control
Act, states that “the Illinois Department
of Health and Human Services, with written
approval by the Illinois State Police, may
authorize the use of cannabis for the ‘treatment
of glaucoma, the side effects of
chemotherapy or radiation therapy in cancer
patients or such other procedure certified
to be medically necessary”. [Source:
720 ILCS 550/11]
If you’re rubbing your eyes, re-reading
that, and wondering how we still have a
problem, you’re not alone. Why can’t this law
protect Julie and the 200,000 other patients
who could benefit from medical cannabis?
Why are they instead being harassed, intimidated,
and arrested when the law says they
may use cannabis? Why hasn’t anyone been
authorized by the IDHHS, per this section?
Maybe a public outcry would provide an
answer to these questions. We’re asking all
organizations, media, and citizens to contact
their legislators and ask them to enforce Section
11. As a prominent but anonymous
Champaign citizen said to me recently, if the
state can choose which parts of the Illinois
Cannabis Control Act it wants to enforce,
why can’t we choose which parts of the Act
we want to comply with?
Meanwhile, there have been several recent
attempts to make Illinois the thirteenth
state to allow medical use of cannabis. In
fact, there have been three bills in the past
three years. A quick recap:
2005: Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago)
introduces H.B. 407, the Illinois Medical
Cannabis Act. After a no vote from the
Republicans on the committee and two
Democrats including Naomi Jakobsson, the
bill fails in the House Human Services Committee
with a vote of 6-5. (Sidenote: I met
with Ms. Jakobsson before the vote and presented
a Zogby poll showing that
approximately 70 percent of Champaign
County residents support medicinal
use of marijuana under the guidance
of a physician. She was very dismissive.)
2006: Sen. Cullerton again introduces
a medical cannabis bill, S.B.
2568. It passes the Illinois Senate
Health and Human Services committee
and is endorsed by the Chicago Sun-
Times and the Illinois Nurses Association.
However, the Senate fails to vote
on the bill by the session deadline.
2007: Sen. Cullerton introduces S.B.
650. After passing committee, the bill
fails narrowly by a vote of 22-29. Our
area’s state senator, Sen. Frerichs (D),
voted against the bill.
While it is disappointing that the
bill has failed despite the wide range of
credible endorsements and the heartfelt
testimony from patients like Julie
Falco, there is reason to be optimistic.
Through the hard work of groups and
individuals all over the state, support
for a medical cannabis bill has steadily
increased and there is reason to expect
the pattern to continue. Stay tuned in
2008 for another attempt. If you think
patients like Julie and the roughly 200,000
patients in Illinois with ailments like cancer,
AIDS, MS, and glaucoma deserve to use
their medicine in peace, call Rep. Jakobsson
and Sen. Frerichs and ask them why they
voted to send these patients to jail.
For more information on medical
cannabis in Illinois, please visit the local
health care advocacy group IDEAL (Illinois
Drug Education and Legislative) Reform at

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