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Article updated: 4/18/2013 5:49 AM

Illinois House OKs medical marijuana

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- State lawmakers took a big first step toward legalizing medical marijuana today, moving legislation through an Illinois House that had declined to approve it for years.

"I know every single one of you has compassion in your heart," state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat said to urge his colleagues to approve it. "This is the day to show it."

The House approved the plan by a 61-57 vote and moved it to the Senate.

Lang says the controls in his legislation are tighter than in other states like California. Under the plan, people wanting medical marijuana would have to prove they had a specific serious disease outlined in the legislation and get a prescription from a doctor with whom they have a legitimate relationship.

There would be 60 dispensaries spread out across Illinois, and people involved with the industry would have to go through background checks.

Those kind of limits helped persuade lawmakers to approve the bill.

"The product is tightly controlled from seed to sale," said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.

The plan is a controversial one, though, and had its critics.

"If I vote 'no' on this, I'm still a compassionate person," said state Rep. Jim Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican.

Some had doubts the controls would keep marijuana out of the hands of people who don't qualify under the law.

"Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States," said state Rep. Patti Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican.

Suburban lawmakers were among those who said they'd changed their mind on the issue over the years. State Rep. Mike Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican, says he's opposed medical marijuana in the past but became convinced via surveys of his constituents that they largely support it for people with serious diseases.

"They shouldn't have to enter into a culture of corruption to obtain it," Tryon said.

It's unclear how it might fare when it gets to the state Senate. The narrow House vote shows how politically tricky the issue can be.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said he'd favor the plan. But others appeared more hesitant and wanted time to review what the House did.

"It definitely needs to be regulated correctly," said state Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he's "open-minded on that. I think we'll watch what the legislature does today."

Whether to legalize medical marijuana is part of a trifecta of controversial social issues facing Illinois lawmakers this year, along with the question of same-sex marriage and how to approve the concealed carry of firearms.

Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Doug T. Graham contributed to this story.

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