Pubdate: Wed, 22 May 2013
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2013 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Eric Zorn


If it goes through, we'll see a trade-off. Increases in addiction, 
crime and family dissolution along with assorted benefits.

But enough about the proposed expansion of casino gambling in Illinois.

Today I want to talk about the inevitability of legalized medical 
marijuana here, a development very unlikely to lead to such social 
problems, the fears of opponents notwithstanding.

I say "inevitability" because a measure to make Illinois the 19th 
state to permit doctors to prescribe marijuana to treat specific 
medical conditions passed the General Assembly Friday, and on Monday, 
in a conversation with the Tribune editorial board, Gov. Pat Quinn 
sent an unmistakable signal that he will soon sign that measure into law.

Quinn sometimes dithers publicly when bills land on his desk. In 
early 2011, for example, he played Hamlet on the abolition of the 
death penalty for nearly two months, continually (allegedly) seeking 
more input from more sources on an issue that had already been 
exhaustively reported and researched, until he finally signed the bill.

But there was no dither in his response Monday, even though he said 
it will be "a month or so" before he acts on the bill.

First, he brought up the fact that military veterans - a group that 
he has long and vigorously championed - are particularly strong 
proponents of medical marijuana, in part because many feel it is of 
great value in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2010, 
the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs formally allowed its patients 
to use marijuana for medicinal purposes in hospitals and clinics 
located in states where such use is legal.

About the Illinois bill, Quinn said, "I just want to make sure that 
it's done properly. Sometimes there's technical defects in bills, so 
you have to pay attention to that at all times."

He added that, right now, he's putting all his energies into helping 
settle differences in Springfield over pension reform legislation.

Fair enough. But aside from possible small "technical defects," I 
asked him directly, "Do you have any big concerns over this bill?"

"I read his column today," Quinn said, nodding toward my colleague 
Steve Chapman. "I thought it was a good column."

He was referring to an entry in Chapman's Tribune blog that listed 
"two big reasons" Quinn should sign the bill:

The first is that cannabis is truly useful for some therapeutic 
purposes. The second is that this legislation subjects it to tight 
controls that should alleviate the concerns of skeptics.

The entry concluded, "For Quinn to sign it would be an act of 
humanity that holds little risk."

The idea in general holds little risk. One indication of that is that 
none of the states that have legalized medical marijuana since 
California became the first in 1996 have repealed it (though some 
have tightened their restrictions). Another is that academic studies 
have shown no particular correlation between medical marijuana laws 
and increased illegal use among teens or adults.

In fact, a study published in the Annals of Epidemiology last year 
found the implementation of medical marijuana laws statistically 
correlated with a small decrease in the rate of marijuana use among 
12- to 17-year-olds.

Another reason this bill isn't risky is that it will be one of the 
most circumscribed marijuana laws on the books, limiting doctors to 
the amounts they can prescribe and the medical conditions for which 
they can prescribe it. The law in no way resembles the almost 
comically permissive California medical pot laws (which, even still, 
have not caused the Golden State to fall into the sea).

And, finally, if our state turns out to be an outlier and the new law 
leads to rampant reefer madness, it will sunset after four years 
unless the legislature renews it. And, of course, the whole thing can 
be repealed at any time.

I congratulate Gov. Quinn in advance for his good sense, and urge the 
doubters and worrywarts to take a chill pill, or whatever it is you do to relax.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom