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Thursday, May 5, 2011 03:04 pm

Another try to legalize medical marijuana

Illinois residents tell their stories of need

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Steven McClure explains how cannabis helps to alleviate pain from chronic illnesses.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

Springfield resident Steven McClure breathes through a tube that connects him to a 10-pound tank of oxygen, a lifeline he carries on his shoulder daily. The 56-year-old says he has emphysema, sleep apnea and bronchitis. A work injury has filled his lungs with remnants of concrete, leaving only 20 percent functioning at their capacity. But he says that most of the pain slips away when he inhales cannabis through a ventilator in his 15th Street home.

“The marijuana, once it kicks in, dulls it to the survivable point to where you’re not gritting your teeth and short-tempered or any of that,” he says.

He admits to selling some of the marijuana that he and his brother, Mark McClure, 45, used to grow in their east side home before it was confiscated by Springfield police in late April. Both say that it was mostly used for Steven McClure’s pain. Each face separate charges for marijuana possession, with court dates in May and June. Steven McClure says that he would have pursued a medical marijuana card if it had been legal.

Lawmakers in the Illinois Statehouse may take action to legalize marijuana for such medical use if Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, has his way. He is chief sponsor of legislation that tightens the reins on legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes as 15 other states and Washington, D.C., have done.

“This bill is not about legalizing pot,” Lang said in an interview. “The bill is about providing a better quality of life to thousands of people in Illinois who need a little help.”

Lang said that the federal government has acted like a “Neanderthal” in its handling of the medicinal marijuana issue, but he says that doesn’t mean that Illinois should do the same.

Supporters hope that new collaboration and bipartisan support from House Minority Leader Tom Cross, an Oswego Republican, could give the bill significant traction this time around.

“Rep. Cross heard from constituents, a disabled veteran and people from the medical community, who have said that the use of medical marijuana is the only thing that eases their severe pain,” says Sara Wojcicki, spokesperson for Cross, in an email.

“If they want to put it [marijuana] in a pill and dispense it in a pharmacy I’ll vote for it,” says Rep. Raymond Poe, a Springfield Republican. Otherwise, Poe says he will not be voting for the legislation to legalize medicinal marijuana.

A Senate bill that aimed to legalize the plant for medicinal use failed to pass in January but the issue resurfaced when a human services committee approved the  bill March 9. The new bill would bar growing cannabis at home, regulate the amount of cannabis issued at 2.5 ounces every two weeks and lists nearly 40 qualifying medical conditions. The legislation would automatically end in 2014.

Supporters like Jim Champion and his wife, Sandy, who live 60 miles west of Chicago, are counting on the bill’s passage. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while serving in the 101st Infantry in the U.S. Army during the Persian Gulf War. Now a quadriplegic, he uses a wheeled chair and says that his legs are so tense most days that his knees grind together at night while he is asleep. Even after Botox injections into his legs, nothing improved. Cannabis is the only thing he has found that calms the pain, keeps his legs from tensing up and has given him his appetite back.

It used to take 54 prescription pills to dull his severe pain, but inhaling cannabis has cut that number nearly in half.

“After I discovered cannabis a couple years ago, I’ve been able to decrease my pills. When I wake up in the morning and my legs are mangled, I take three puffs off of my vaporizer or off of a cannabis cigarette and I mean, my legs just relax,” he says.

He and his wife, Sandy, drove from DeKalb County May 3 to lobby legislators for House Bill 30, legislation that Lang has promised to pass by the end of session, May 31.

“I’m going to pass this bill. I promised these people I would,” says Lang.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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