Medical marijuana: A smoking issue

DeWayne Bartels

Proponents of a statewide medical marijuana law want the focus on compassion.

Compassion has a role to play in the discussion several local law enforcement and political officials said last week. But, compassion pales in comparison to concerns about drug abuse, they all added.

One thing that stood out in the discussion with local officials is that stereotypes about liberals, conservatives and law enforcement do not necessarily apply.

One might expect, from stereotypes, for a Democrat to be more supportive than a conservative. That is not the case with this issue. 

Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), who represents East Peoria in the 46th District, said he is taking a hard stance against this legislation.

“I’m aware of this legislation. I’m inclined not to support it ... I live in a neighborhood where drugs are a real problem. This would not help that situation,” Koehler said.

Koehler said he has a lot of questions that need to be answered. He wants to know what makes marijuana medicinally valuable to some and whether what makes it valuable can be made in pill form?

“I’m concerned about blurring the line between medicinal use and recreational use,” Koehler said.

“We don’t need more drug problems.”

Sen. Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) sees the issue as one which does include compassion.

“I’ve been lobbied by people on this issue I find sincere. If you talk to patients using marijuana, as I have, you find they use it in cookies and brownies. They say it works,” Risinger said.

“I have a lot of compassion and sympathy for these folks.”

Risinger said his preference would be to allow its use as a drug prescribed by doctors.

“But, that’s an issue that has to be addressed at the federal level. We can’t do anything about that at the state level,” he said.

As the law is proposed now — which would allow patients to grow up to eight marijuana plants — Risinger said he is not in favor.

“The issue I have is controls over who has access to it,” Risinger said.

“Under a doctor’s direction, I have no problem with it.”

State Rep. Keith Sommer (R-Morton), who represents Washington in the 106th District, said, like Risinger, he has empathy on this issue. But, he said when this issue came up last week in the house Healthcare Access and Availability Committee, on which he sits, there was no medical testimony.

“I would think if this is a pervasive situation and only marijuana will work, we would have heard that from some doctors,” Sommer said.

In Morton, police chief Nick Graff took a hard line against the proposed legislation.

“Personally, I’m against it,” Graff said, brushing aside the compassion aspect.

“Marijuana stays in a person’s system a long time. People who would get it legally would have no business driving.”

However, East Peoria police chief Ed Papis said he can see the issue of compassion in this matter.

“I have empathy for those who need it,” Papis said. “But it needs to be controlled and used under a doctor’s care.”

That said, Papis added, he sees this legislation as nothing more than a “subterfuge to legalize marijuana.”

Compassion factor

                A majority of Illinois citizens, according to a statewide March 10 poll commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, approve of a law allowing seriously ill patients to use marijuana. The poll found a 68-27 percent favorable margin.

Support was strong across the state, ranging from 70 percent in Chicago to 65 percent in downstate areas.

Majority support, according to the pollsters, crossed all political party lines. Democrats favored medical marijuana access by an 82-14 percent margin. Republicans supported the idea by a much narrower 54-41 percent margin. Independents were favorable by a 68-27 percent margin.

The poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., and paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project, was conducted by phone and surveyed 625 randomly selected registered Illinois voters between Feb. 9 and Feb. 16. The survey asked whether respondents believe “seriously and terminally ill patients should be allowed to use and grow medical marijuana for personal use if their doctors recommended it.”

John Walker, director of Illinois Compassion Action Network — an organization of patients, doctors and advocates working to pass the state’s medical marijuana law — said the poll numbers show Illinoisans see this as a matter of compassion and common sense. Walker said political representatives need to take note of the poll numbers.        

During last year’s Senate debate on this issue, some legislators expressed concerns that allowing patients to use marijuana would send the wrong message about drug use. Those polled did not share that concern. Only 23 percent of those polled said medical marijuana would send the wrong message to youth.

Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) said he did not care about poll results done by those pushing this legislation.

“They’re obviously trying to promote their issue,” Koehler said.

“I don’t really care what their polls say.”