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But after talking with some gravely ill patients and their doctors and families, Cross recently made the surprising announcement that he was shifting his position to support a new medical marijuana measure. Sponsored by Democrat Lou Lang of Skokie, it would allow people with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and a couple dozen other debilitating conditions to use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
As Claire Thompson wrote in the Reader last year, the Illinois legislature first enacted a medical marijuana law in 1978, but because it never received the necessary go-ahead from the state police and Department of Human Services, it’s essentially lain dormant ever since.
The new bill doesn’t require authorization from those departments. With Cross’s support, it could pass the state house as soon as Wednesday or Thursday.
Since the Illinois senate approved a similar measure in 2009, house passage would almost guarantee that seriously ill people in Illinois will be able to legally access and use marijuana sometime soon.
I caught up with Cross on Tuesday and asked him to talk about the legislation.
So what’s the status of HB0030?
I think it’s going to be called Wednesday or Thursday. There are several people working for the votes right now.
You’ve announced your support. Are you also active in getting your members to back it?
I’m for it and I’d like it to pass. But my members make decisions on their own. If anybody asks me, I’ll tell them where I am on it. I hope they will be for it too. I think it’s going to be close.
Why did you oppose it before? Why did you switch your position?
You’ll notice that I work on a lot of criminal justice legislation. I used to be a prosecutor [in the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s Office], and my background was in law enforcement, and my initial inclination was that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I also thought the bill was initially written in a broad way. I expressed my concerns to Lou Lang. Now it lists specific illnesses—such as cancer, lupus, and
Crone Crohn’s disease—and there are some limits on how the marijuana can be grown and produced. So I think it’s a better bill.
And the more I talked to people and heard their stories, it seemed to me to be an issue of compassion. I talked to people in the medical field, and doctors have told me that in some cases this is really the only thing that works as a pain killer. I didn’t know how we could deny it to people who are suffering.
Was there a particular person or story that swayed you?
There were a number of different ones. But I had a situation with some friends, who didn’t’ even tell me about it at first, who ended up getting some marijuana for their mother, who was going through some health challenges. The idea of them harming their professional careers for this really bothered me. They shouldn’t have to take that risk.
What’s the reaction been like? What have you heard from other Republicans?
I think four or five have said they’re going to vote for it since the changes to the original bill. Overall, people have been pretty positive. Some people have been nasty—like the Illinois Family Institute. But that’s to be expected.
You were first elected in 1992, so people in your district clearly keep voting for you. Do you think this will cause you any political problems there?
I don’t know. I don’t want to sit here and suggest I don’t care about that, but at the end of the day the right thing is to say to a cancer patient, we should make life as comfortable for you as possible. I don’t think any elected official should take their position and be careless about it, but I had a real hard time saying that sick people couldn’t have access to something that would help them.
The typical argument against medical marijuana laws—including the one from the Illinois Family Institute—is that they provide an entry point for advocates of broader marijuana legalization. Is that a concern of yours?
There’s a potential for abuse and we have to watch it. But if you have ALS and you sell your marijuana to somebody else, you’ll lose your right to use it. If you look at the list of diseases in the bill, it’s not logical to say that people with MS and Crone’s will use this to further a criminal enterprise. I just don’t buy that. And in three years this thing sunsets, so if it’s not working we can fix it.
Alright, taking the other track: Why shouldn’t we legalize marijuana altogether? What’s your position on that?
I’m for medical marijuana.
So you’re not in favor of broader legalization?
I think if you have that discussion you run the risk of hurting this issue. For the purposes of helping people who have illnesses, the best thing you can do is pass this.