State considers marijuana for medical purposes

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate, Karen Munoz, represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in Chicago Lawyer magazine and her column appears regularly in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The Illinois State Bar Association recently endorsed legislation that would allow patients who suffer from a debilitating medical condition to use and possess small amounts of marijuana if certified to do so by their regular physician. The endorsement comes after state Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat, deferred requesting for a vote on his proposal to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes. Lang was forced to defer the vote due to inadequate support for the bill. Under Lang’s bill, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of 30 debilitating medical conditions, register with the Department of Public Health and have a written certification from their certification. Patients would be limited to no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Opponents to the bill in Illinois claim that marijuana acts as a gateway to abuse of other illegal substances.

According to Lang, the three-year pilot program would be the most restrictive in the country. The bill comes at a time when states all around America are beginning a discussion on the possible effects of legalizing marijuana. Under federal law, marijuana is considered an addictive substance and its distribution is a federal offense. However, in a recent media interview, President Barack Obama stated that the prosecution of those who distribute marijuana for medical purposes under state law is not a priority of his administration.

Many commentators have compared the history of marijuana to that of alcohol, which was banned by the federal government in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The Prohibition era gave rise to an underground network where alcohol could be purchased with ease. A similar underground network exists in the states where marijuana can be purchased with little difficulty. Even in states where marijuana has been legalized for those with medical conditions, there is anecdotal evidence of the substance being prescribed for almost any ailment. It was ultimately the public’s weariness of organized crime that led to the end of prohibition. Whether the legalization of pot in the states would bring an end to the current cartel violence in Mexico is up for debate. A recent report by the Mexican Competitive Institute states that Mexican drug organizations could lose almost $2.8 billion by the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.

Proponents of efforts to legalize the substance argue that the move would benefit the country due to the regulation and taxation of the product.  However, Gil Kerlikowske of the Obama administration claims that the social costs of alcohol far outweigh the tax intake achieved on alcoholic products. Whether already over-stretched states would be willing to gamble on the social costs of legalizing marijuana is another issue that will have to be explored in detail.

We will have to wait until later this year to see if Lang can drum up the necessary support for his bill. In the meantime, all eyes will be on the federal government to see what action, if any, it will take on the states that legalized the drug.

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