Pubdate: Sun, 22 Apr 2007
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2007 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Kevin McDermott, Post-Dispatch Springfield Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois' latest attempt to legalize medical
marijuana is getting support from a surprising source - religious leaders.

"The moral issue is relief of suffering," said the Rev. D. Jay Johnson
of the Union Avenue Christian Church in Litchfield.

Johnson is one of more than 40 state religious leaders named in a
letter distributed to legislators as they consider changing Illinois
law to allow use of marijuana for treating pain and nausea in medical

But opponents also are leaning on religious morality as a central part
of their argument. They say that the real purpose of the movement is
to legalize recreational pot, and that well-meaning clergy are being

"I think they're using the compassion of people who don't understand
what the goal is," said Anita Bedell of the Illinois Church Action on
Alcohol & Addiction Problems, the group leading the fight against the

Legislation pending in the Senate would allow people diagnosed with
"debilitating" medical conditions to legally possess up to 12 cannabis
plants and as much as 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has
passed committee and is awaiting a Senate floor vote.

Cullerton has acknowledged that its chances are still questionable
unless he can garner more support from his colleagues. He estimates he
has about 20 of the 30 votes needed for Senate passage.

Proponents say medicinal marijuana can ease nausea associated with
chemotherapy treatments for cancer, the pain of multiple sclerosis and
other conditions.

Usage would be regulated by the state Department of Public Health and
overseen by a doctor. The legislation would require that the cannabis
be grown in locked, indoor locations.

In the past decade, medicinal marijuana has been legalized in 12
states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada,
New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

"It's simply morally wrong to punish people for making an earnest
attempt at healing," said Tyler Smith, spokesman for the Interfaith
Drug Policy Initiative, the Washington-based group behind the
religious campaign to pass the bill.

The letter from religious leaders supporting legalized medical
marijuana states: "Our religious values of compassion, mercy, and
justice compel us to ask that you vote yes on the medical marijuana
bill." It was e-mailed to Illinois senators several weeks ago.

Smith acknowledges that when it comes to marijuana use, some people
feel it is just inherently wrong. He maintains, however, that it is
wrong to send people to prison for using marijuana to alleviate pain.

"It takes religious leaders taking a stand for people to really
understand that," he said.

Critics of the campaign allege its proponents may have misled those
religious leaders into believing the legislation is strictly about
hospice use of marijuana.

"Who wouldn't want to make a person in that condition feel better?"
said Jeannie Lowe, also of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol &
Addiction Problems.

Lowe and other opponents say the wording of the legislation is so
vague that, with a willing doctor, a patient could meet the standards
for marijuana use for just about any illness.

The Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative compiled the list of names by
sending out mailers to various churches and temples around the state,
asking leaders to mail back their signatures in support of the proposal.

Still, some religious leaders named in the letter said they had, in
fact, been thinking primarily in terms of easing the suffering of
terminal cancer patients.

"I'm thinking in terms of people who are terminal or on chemotherapy,"
said the Rev. Dr. Gladys Herzog of Salem United Church of Christ in

She added, "I'm sure it will evoke disagreement" among religious

Others named in the letter said they saw their support as being
consistent with religious thought regarding compassion for the sick.

"It comes down to, what do we think God is up to?" said Pastor Bob
Hillenbrand of First Presbyterian Church of Rockford. He said his own
belief was in "a God of compassion, and therefore also of healing."

Pastor Robert C. Morwell of Union United Methodist Church in Quincy
said he had never used marijuana nor had any desire to. "But I think
it's a little silly to say we can prescribe morphine ... and other
drugs that are more addictive," but not marijuana, he said.

Cullerton dismissed concerns that legalizing medical marijuana would
pave the way for recreational marijuana use. He said it was already
relatively easy for recreational users to obtain pot illegally,
without having to get a doctor involved. Also, he pointed out that the
legislation would specifically limit the growing and usage of medical
marijuana to the patient, and increase the penalties for any who
abused that system.

"It's a compassionate bill," said Cullerton. "If that brings a moral
dimension to it (for some supporters), that's fine."

Cullerton sponsored similar legislation last year and won committee
passage, but he declined to call it for a vote for fear it would
become an election-year issue, he said.

The bill is SB650.
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