BLOOMINGTON — Medical marijuana is a proven pain reliever and its legalization won’t turn thousands of Illinoisans into stoners, argue people who favor medical marijuana legislation that could be voted on next week in the Illinois House.
“Medical marijuana has been shown in numerous studies to work,” said Pete Guither, faculty adviser to the Illinois State University chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. “Let’s leave it up to the doctors and patients to work out what medicine brings pain relief.”
But opponents argue legalizing cannabis use opens the door to abuse by people who don’t need it for pain relief and to potential harmful interactions with prescription medication.
“I don’t believe that we should send a message to our kids that it’s safe to use when there’s evidence to the contrary,” said State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, proposes to legalize medical marijuana in limited amounts for pain relief for people with specific illnesses. The bill could be called for a vote as early as Tuesday when House members return to Springfield.
Brady, who said this week Lang was a couple votes short of the 60 needed for passage, opposes the bill because he’s concerned it could lead to abuse by people who don’t need marijuana for pain control. He said Marinol — marijuana in pill form — is available by prescription.
But Guither said Marinol doesn’t work for everyone and smoking marijuana makes it easier to adjust doses. “It should be up to the patient and doctor what works best,” he said. As to the misuse argument, Guither said, “Get with the real world — people are using it anyway when it’s not legal.
“What you have are sick people who want to be law-abiding citizens and who want treatment, but it is being denied. That’s the sad part.”
If medical marijuana is legalized, a few people may abuse that, Guither acknowledged, but “The sky isn’t going to fall. People won’t drop out of school and become zombies.”
Brady also opposes the legislation because it doesn’t require that medical marijuana be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. If it’s a legalized medicine, “why should it be treated differently from other medicines?” he asked.
Dr. Ben Taimoorazy, a pain management specialist with Guardian Headache & Pain Management Institute in Bloomington, said marijuana has proven medical properties, including reducing nausea from chemotherapy and discouraging loss of appetite in HIV/AIDS and cancer patients.
But Taimoorazy said he and other physicians are concerned about how smoking marijuana could interact with prescription medicines.
“It’s premature,” he said of legalization. “More studies are needed.”