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Illinois lawmakers just say no to medical marijuana

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SPRINGFIELD -- A proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes went up in smoke in the Illinois House Tuesday.

After nearly two hours of sometimes passionate debate, the measure fell just a handful of votes short of the 60 needed to advance to the Senate, which must approve changes made in the House before it can go to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.

Under the legislation, certain patients could obtain medical-grade marijuana from state-regulated dealers for use in their homes.

Patients would have to receive permission from a physician to apply for a license. The Illinois Department of Public Health would then authorize the person to obtain three marijuana plants per month.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who sponsored the proposal, said Illinois should join 15 other states with similar laws because the drug can benefit people with painful and chronic diseases. He said Illinois' version would be among the strictest in the nation.

"This is the most controlled, narrow bill in America. We did that to get the ball rolling, to help people," Lang said. "We cannot be afraid of the word 'marijuana.'"

Republicans led the charge to kill the legislation.

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"This goes well beyond medical treatment. What is the message we are sending our children. This has been illegal for a reason," said state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill.

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said one stumbling block was the provision that bypassed pharmacies as the dispensary of marijuana.

Lang also dismissed GOP concerns that people would drive under the influence of drugs or smoke at workplaces.

"This does not give someone carte blanche to be high," Lang said.

The issue brought former television talk show host Montel Williams to the Capitol to lobby lawmakers to approve the measure. He has multiple sclerosis and uses medical marijuana to help ease the effects of his condition.

The legislation is Senate Bill 1381.

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