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updated: 1/16/2013 12:47 PM

Editorial: Towns wise to prepare on medical marijuana

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

A bill to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes never made it out of a legislative committee for a vote in the 97th General Assembly's lame duck sessions. But that doesn't mean the issue is dead. There's talk it could gain new life in some form in the new 98th.

Rather than watching and waiting to see what might happen, several suburban communities have begun studying the possible legislation and what controls it would afford them. There's plenty of uncertainty, but despite that it's wise for all communities to do their homework.

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We're skeptical about the value of medical marijuana until we can evaluate the potential effects of a particular bill, but it's not hard to see the momentum for it in legislatures around the country nor to imagine some of the consequences if such a measure becomes law.

True, communities won't decide the fate of the legislation -- that's up to the General Assembly. But if the previous version is any indication, local zoning regulations will be valuable tools in providing controls.

"You're going to want to carefully plan for this potential," Wauconda Village Attorney Rudy Magna told village officials during a meeting last week. Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Grayslake and Lake Forest are among the towns where officials have discussed the proposed legislation in recent weeks.

Patients suffering from cancer, HIV and other painful diseases have said marijuana use eases their symptoms. And 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to permit them to legally use medical marijuana, starting with California in 1996. Massachusetts and Connecticut approved legislation in 2012.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have enacted laws allowing pot for recreational use.

The previous proposal in Illinois, House Bill 30, focused only on medical marijuana and included a three-year test program in which qualified patients would have been limited to 2.5 ounces of marijuana over a 14-day period. The local focus of that bill was the creation of nonprofit cannabis dispensaries, which would have been allowed to grow, harvest and distribute marijuana. They would have been limited to one per state Senate district.

Under that bill, municipal leaders would not have been able to prevent a dispensary from opening, but they could control where it opened through zoning rules, officials have said. To that end, Buffalo Grove officials have directed the plan commission to evaluate and recommend possible zoning regulations for the dispensaries to ensure rules are adequate to address such a use. Barrington and Lake Forest have taken similar steps.

The aim is to be proactive and prepared, and it's the right kind of local-government thinking.

It's possible a medical marijuana bill never will see the light of day here. But, given the topic, local officials are well advised to do some advance planning to be ready if it does.

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