Jessica Bauer of Rockford, who suffers from pancreatic cancer, spent Tuesday at the state Capitol trying to convince lawmakers to pass medical marijuana legislation.

In what could be the final push from supporting constituents before the Illinois House votes on legislation as early as next week, Bauer — along with three other seriously ill, medical marijuana patients — knocked on legislators’ office doors to tell their stories. The patients have been smoking medical marijuana, illegally, to ease the symptoms of their illnesses and the side effects of prescription medication.

“I’m just really, really hoping that they can see where we’re coming from as patients ... that this really can help us,” Bauer said while standing beside the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, during a press conference Tuesday.

Though Lang’s bill, House Bill 1, is just a few votes shy of approval, he said there’s still 10 to 12 undecided lawmakers with whom he continues to have discussions.

“When you have a controversial bill like this, sometimes it’s a moving target,” Lang said of the votes needed for passage. “There will be people who are leaning ‘yes,’ and the next day, maybe not so much. And some that were leaning ‘no’ are with you the next day.”

Convincing stories

Bauer was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2011 and is on her third round of chemotherapy. After undergoing life-saving surgery this past summer, Bauer said she began taking medications, some of which were designed to ease symptoms like nausea, joint pain, migraines and lack of appetite. Nothing worked, she said.

After dropping to 102 pounds, Bauer said she began smoking medical marijuana. Since then, she’s gained some of her weight back and her quality of life has improved.

“I can actually go and play in the park with my 5-year-old daughter for 15, 20 minutes before I get tired,” Bauer said. “It’s a big step for me.”

She said she hopes undecided lawmakers will side with her once they hear her story.

Those undecided lawmakers are from both parties, scattered throughout the state, Lang said.

Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, said Tuesday she’s still undecided.

“This is one where I feel it’s kind of a social issue, so I don’t think my own personal opinion (is a factor). I’m not voting just on who I am. I’m voting for my constituents,” Scherer said. “I’m just trying to keep my ears open.”

Some opponents argue the bill would open the door to Illinois legalizing other illicit drugs and marijuana for recreational use.

Lang describes the bill as the “toughest, most regulated” piece of legislation ever written on the subject in the states that have adopted such measures. On Monday, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation, bringing the number of states that have legalized medical marijuana to 19.

How much longer?

Illinois’ proposal would create a four-year pilot program through which qualified patients could use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana over a two-week period. The drug would be available only to people with specific medical conditions, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS, and only if their doctors and the Department of Public Health approve.

After four years, lawmakers would decide whether to make the law permanent, Lang said.

Medical marijuana could be a safer alternative to prescription medications designed to ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis, said Jim Champion, a disabled veteran from Somonauk who’s suffered from MS for more than 25 years. Many of those medications come with life-threatening side effects, he said.

“I’ve become a prisoner in my own body with the atrophy, the muscle spasms … I’ve tried every pill, every shot, everything they could offer me,” Champion said. “I no longer take Valium and morphine and some of the heavier drugs … I was a prisoner to all of these prescription drugs they kept giving me.”

After he began smoking cannabis, he reduced the number of pills consumed each day to 25, down from 54.

Paul Bachmann, who also suffers from MS, traveled from Plano to lobby lawmakers.

“How much more are we going to have to wait until we can get the relief we need?” he asked.

Lang said the legislation has been reworked many times to address issues seen in states like California, where “virtually anyone” can get a prescription for the drug.

“We did this to convince every member of the House that we are serious that this was not about people smoking dope. It’s not about people getting high,” Lang said. “It’s about making sure a 75-year-old colon cancer patient who is terminal has an opportunity to live out her remaining years with a quality of life.”

News Hawk- Truth Seeker 420 MAGAZINE ®
Author: Lauren Leone-Cross
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Website: Medical marijuana patients lobby lawmakers - State - Galesburg, IL - The Register-Mail