Illinois has become the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana, allowing individuals with serious diseases, like cancer and HIV, to purchase the drug in limited quantities. Under the new law signed by Governor Pat Quinn, patients with a registry identification card by the Department of Public Health are permitted to purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana over a two-week period. There will be 22 cultivation centers in Illinois, where plants will be grown and sold with a 7 percent sales tax to fund crime prevention programs.
The law, however, is unusually restrictive compared to other states with similar legislation. Illinois patients will not be allowed to grow their own plants nor will patients from other states be allowed to use their ID to purchase medical marijuana. Cultivation centers, marijuana dispensaries, and political action committees created by them cannot make contributions to promote political candidates nor can political candidates knowingly receive such contributions.
So, this is a continuation of the drug war, but a step in the right direction. Marijuana will continue to be stigmatized in the U.S.
President Obama remains opposed to marijuana legalization, even though the majority of Americans are in favor of it, according to polls by Pew Research and Gallup. Yet with continued raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the auditing by the IRS of medical marijuana dispensaries, there is still a long way to go before Americans can see true reform on marijuana policy.
Why? There are special interests involved, including police unions, private prison corporations, alcohol and tobacco companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and the medical marijuana industry. That’s right, the people who lobby to allow patients access to marijuana are, at the same time, against full legalization.
Keeping marijuana illegal for recreational use is a win for all of those special interests. Full legalization would cut funding for police departments to combat drug crime. There would be a significant decrease in the prison population. The alcohol and tobacco industries would have to compete with cannabis for leisure dollars. The pharmaceutical industry would lose profits made on painkillers like Advil and Vicodin. And the medical marijuana industry, also known as “Big Marijuana,” would see prices drop because of increased access to patients and non-patients alike.
So, even though the move by Illinois to legalize medical marijuana is one step closer to reform on a federal level, pro-cannabis activists should only see this as a hollow victory.