Illinois on Friday took one more big step toward becoming the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana.
The state Senate voted 35-21 in favor of the bill early Friday afternoon, despite concerns expressed by some opposing lawmakers -- particularly Republican state Sen. Kyle McCarter -- that marijuana is a "gateway drug" to usage of other, more dangerous drugs.
But the bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, emphasized that the bill "is filled with walls" to ensure the public's safety, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The bill was approved last week by the Senate Executive Committee and was already OKed by the state House. The proposal next needs the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn, who previously said he is "open-minded" about it.
The legislation would establish a four-year pilot program during which individuals with serious diseases including cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis would be able to get a special ID card allowing them to buy limited amounts -- up to two-and-a-half ounces -- of medical marijuana from one of 60 state-licensed dispensaries.
The bill, described by proponents as "model legislation" for other states to follow, is said to have the tightest regulation of any medical marijuana law currently on the books anywhere in the nation. A coalition of nearly 250 physicians previously came forward and gave a thumbs up to the proposal, as did Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
Dan Riffle, deputy director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement that they are hopeful Gov. Quinn will sign the bill into law, describing it as "a no-brainer."
"Marijuana has proven medical benefits, regulating it works, and there is broad public and legislative support for doing it," Riffle said.