Illinois on Thursday officially became the 20th U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana.
At a ceremony at the University of Chicago, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill while joined by Jim Champion, a military veteran who suffers from multiple sclerosis, the Chicago Tribune reports.
"I feel that this is something, whatever faith we practice, we all believe that helping those who are sick, helping them recover and also helping them deal with pain, that's a tenet in every faith and every religion," the governor said a the Thursday ceremony, as reported by NBC Chicago.
The law -- instituting a four-year pilot medical marijuana program -- will go into effect on Jan. 1. It allows individuals with serious diseases including cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis 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. Medical marijuana users must have established relationships with a doctor who will OK their usage of the drug.
This is a developing story.
Illinois' rules are among some of the strictest in the nation, according to Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. The Washington-D.C. based legalization advocacy group tracks state laws and helps some craft bills.
For one, Illinois won't allow home growing operations like more than a dozen other states do. The growing centers will have to be under 24-hour video surveillance, which is uncommon compared to other states. O'Keefe said most states also have more general guidelines on who can obtain medical marijuana.
Legalizing medical marijuana faced some opposition in Illinois, mainly from opponents who feared it would encourage drug use and authorities who feared it would complicate driving-under-the-influence tests. Some anti-crime groups also objected to the 2.5-ounce amount, which they said was too much.
Bill sponsor Rep. Lou Lang, dismissed the concerns, saying it would be difficult to obtain the drug for anyone who didn't need it.
"This was for the patients," Lang said Thursday. "This was for the state of health care ... in Illinois."
He has also said that the 2.5-ounce amount is to accommodate patients who ingest, not smoke, it, such as baked goods.
"Those folks all they focus is joints," the Skokie Democrat said of opponents. "Most (patients) don't smoke it, they cook with it or vaporize it."
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