A push to make it legal for doctors to prescribe medical-grade marijuana advanced in the General Assembly last week.

The measure already has been approved in the House and is now poised for a vote in the Illinois Senate.

Opponents continue to question whether legalizing medical marijuana is just a way to loosen up public sentiment about pot in order to pave the way for full-scale legalization for everyone, not just sick people.

Under that theory, the medical cannabis legislation is a gateway bill, sort of like the General Assembly approving civil unions as a precursor to the legalization of gay marriage.

Supporters of the medical marijuana proposal say that’s not the case.

“Cannabis is my gateway off these heavy drugs,” Jim Champion of Somonauk told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Since beginning to smoke one marijuana cigarette a day, the military veteran, who has advanced multiple sclerosis, has been able to pare down his pill intake from 59 to 24 per day.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont voted “no” in the committee. She said the state should be having a broader conversation about dope.

“I really think the question we should be asking is whether we should be legalizing it. Is it a gateway drug? Is it not a gateway drug? What’s the revenue potential? By supporting this, maybe we could tax it. What will the impact be on gangs and crime?” Radogno said.

“I am not for this because I don’t think it addresses the bigger picture that we really ought to be addressing and that is, whether or not it would be wise to legalize it,” she added.

Number crunching

With the clock ticking down on the spring legislative session, look for lawmakers to begin nailing down some budget figures beginning this week.

Once again, the crafting of the fiscal year 2014 spending blueprint comes against the backdrop of ever-increasing costs for things like health care and pensions.

That’s why local governments and school districts should keep an eye out for the long hand of state government as the spring session heads toward a conclusion.

Take, for instance, regional offices of education. Last week, legislation was debated in the House that would continue funneling money away from the offices and into state coffers.

The Illinois Municipal League says it continues to hear rumblings that the General Assembly is poised to go along with Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to divert tax dollars away from cities.

And, on Thursday, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, held a hearing on a plan to shift the cost of employee pensions from the state to local school districts.

The net result of any of these moves could be higher local taxes or fewer local services. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, says that’s just the way things are these days.

“All Illinoisans are sharing in the fiscal distress of the state of Illinois. Our goal in a variety of actions here in the legislature is to correct the fiscal problems of the state. Make life for every Illinoisan a little better,” Madigan said.

GOP turmoil

Pat Brady’s decision to resign as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party triggered a scramble to find a new person to take over the thankless job of overseeing a political organization that has not done very well in recent years.

Among the names to surface as a possible replacement were state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, and longtime lobbyist Jack Dorgan, a member of the state Republican central committee.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, had a novel idea. He jokingly suggested putting himself in the position to save money on letterhead.

“You just scratch out the Pat and write in Dan,” Brady said.

The two Bradys actually are cousins.

13th Congress

When Ann Callis ran for judge in Madison County in 2000, she paid for her campaign out of her own pocket to the tune of about $68,000.

But the Democrat from Troy says she won’t be doing the same thing when she runs for Congress in Illinois’ 13th district against freshman Republican Rodney Davis in 2014.

That’s probably a wise financial move: Spending in the 2012 race between Davis, Democrat David Gill and independent John Hartman topped the $8 million mark and both parties are gearing up for what could be a similarly expensive battle.

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