After months of keeping his decision-making close to the vest, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign legislation Thursday that will make the state the 20th in the nation to legalize marijuana for medical use.
The Chicago Democrat will center his remarks on military veterans -- something that's been a focus in his governorship -- and the chronically ill. He'll also tout how the standards in the bill are some of the nation's toughest, according to a copy of his plans obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
Quinn had been mum for months about what he was going to do with the legislation, saying only that he had heard compelling testimony from sick patients and was staying "open-minded." That was even as Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon came forward in support.
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Thursday's bill signing will be held at the University of Chicago, and advocates for medical marijuana and the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, have been invited.
Among those attending will be Army veteran Jim Champion, who suffers from a progressive form of multiple sclerosis and says that cannabis has helped him reduce the number of pills he takes. At one time, he was taking nearly 60 a day, but he said that medical marijuana eases his pain.
"I feel finally vindicated in a way," said Champion, who has met Quinn before. "All this time I've been telling people it helps me, but I've been living with the stigma of being a disabled veteran and also a criminal."
Champion is scheduled to speak at the event about the illness he's had for more than 25 years and that has left him a quadriplegic.
The bill creates a framework for a pilot program that includes requiring patients and caregivers to undergo background checks. It also sets a 2.5-ounce limit per patient per purchase and sets out state-regulated dispensaries.
Opponents have expressed worries about encouraging recreational use, especially among teenagers. Others including the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association opposed the measure over concerns about motorists driving under the influence of marijuana.
Lang, the bill's sponsor, has dismissed those concerns, saying the measure was designed to be one of the strictest in the country and there will be mechanisms in place to closely track all plants and sales.
Only patients who have an established relationship with their doctor and who suffer from the more than 30 specifically-listed medical conditions — including cancer — will be allowed to get medical marijuana.
"It's gratifying to be in a situation where after a significant amount of work we were able to finalize a bill that will provide so much relief and a better quality of life for people in the state of Illinois," Lang said.
After it's signed, the law takes effect Jan. 1.
Currently 19 other states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana.