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updated: 5/21/2013 10:46 AM

Oberweis on medical marijuana: It's about helping people in pain

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  • State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, voted for medical marijuana.

       State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, voted for medical marijuana.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- State Sen. Jim Oberweis said his reason for breaking ranks with most of his fellow Republican lawmakers by voting to legalize medical marijuana is simple: It might help people in pain.

The Sugar Grove Republican typically holds conservative views, and Oberweis said he's received calls from constituents asking why he voted as he did on Friday.

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"The bottom line is, who am I to say that they shouldn't be allowed to use that if in fact that will help them?" Oberweis said.

Oberweis said he did receive at least one positive message since his controversial vote.

"I did hear from an individual whose wife is going through cancer and thanked me for the vote, said they really appreciated the opportunity for her to use that," Oberweis said.

At a campaign event last October, Oberweis said he'd be open to legalizing medical marijuana, though he acknowledged at the time the view might seem out of character for him.

"I am willing to look at both sides, which probably will surprise a few of you here in the room," he said at the time.

Oberweis was among the most vocal critics of former GOP Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles for going against the party platform by supporting same-sex marriage. The Republican platform also says the party should "make our communities safer through reducing crime and drug use."

"Obviously, that means illegal drug use. Once it's legalized, it is no longer illegal, so I don't think there's any conflict there," Oberweis said.

He added it's different for an individual legislator than it was for Brady, who he said was supposed to represent the party's ideals.

"I think that it's the right of any legislator to vote as he or she sees fit on a bill whether or not it agrees with the party platform," Oberweis said. "I think there is a huge difference between the leader of an organization, the CEO, the chairman of the party, taking a public position on an issue versus a legislator."

Brady stepped down from the position last month.

Oberweis wasn't the only suburban Republican to vote for medical marijuana.

State Sen. Pam Althoff said the few constituents who reached out to her were not aware of the controls in the proposal.

"It was amazing how much of the bill they did not know," Althoff, of McHenry, said.

Under the bill, patients would have to have one of more than 30 serious diseases to legally get marijuana in Illinois. A patient could have up to 2.5 ounces per week, and the drug would have to be prescribed by a doctor who has had an ongoing relationship with the patient.

Althoff voted twice against medical marijuana in the past because she felt the restrictions weren't strong enough, but she said this proposal addressed her concerns. Althoff said she hopes the proposal becomes the template for the rest of the country.

She said she did not feel her vote went against the party's platform, either.

"I don't look at this as a drug vote, I look at this as a vote for compassionate caring and allowing people who are extraordinarily ill access to pain relief," Althoff said. "I don't think there is a single Republican who would deny that type of a compassionate position to an individual."

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