Presenter Dr. Robert DuPont, president of the Institute on Behavior and Health disputes some popular opinions of marijuana Monday during a conference discussing medical marijuana at Moraine Valley Community College. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 18, 2013 6:19AM
Opponents of a bill in Springfield that would make medicinal marijuana legal in Illinois shared their concerns Monday at a seminar at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.
About 200 people heard from two doctors and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration director Peter Bensinger regarding the potentially dangerous implications for everyone in the state, not just those using medical marijuana, if the legislation is approved.
The House could vote on the legislation, House Bill 1, this week.
“Why isn’t there an outpouring of interest in this from drug companies? If this was going to be a blockbuster drug, they’d be doing it,” said Dr. Andrea Barthwell, of Two Dreams, a drug treatment service in Chicago. “If all the (medical) conditions could be assisted by marijuana, they’d be interested. We’re only talking about this as a way to open the gates (of legalization of marijuana). This is the camel’s nose under the tent.”
State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) is sponsoring the bill. Proponents held a rally in Springfield last week.
If Barthwell could, she would tell Lang “to cut it out.” She’s said she’s willing to “drive to Springfield to give him an hour of my time.”
She cited the lack of FDA studies or approval as reasons why marijuana should not be approved for health care. The drug is too unpredictable in people, she said.
Dr. Robert DuPont, of Georgetown University and a business partner of Bensinger, said, “Smoke is not medicine, period. Medicine is not a plant.”
Bensinger said the medical marijuana bill would allow each cardholder to obtain 21/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. That, he said, is enough to create 183 marijuana cigarettes, or joints.
“Where does the excess go? They’re going to give it to their friends or sell it,” he said.
On Tuesday morning at the Thompson Center in Chicago, a group of doctors will state their support for the bill. Statewide, nearly 250 doctors support the bill, according to a news release from the Marijuana Policy Project.
If approved, Illinois would join 18 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing medical marijuana for patients suffering from painful diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. The bill would establish a network of state-regulated cultivation centers and dispensaries that would provide medicinal marijuana to qualified patients.
Dan Riffle, deputy director of government affairs for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement: “It should be up to physicians, not police and prosecutors, to decide whether medical marijuana is the right treatment for their patients.”
Barthwell would prefer if doctors followed guidelines of the FDA, which has not given approval of marijuana as medicine. Proponents, she said, are “trying to foist an untested, crude botanical as medicine on people.
“No studies to date show smoked marijuana is superior to an FDA-approved medicine on the market,” Barthwell said.
Doctors, she said, should refrain from prescribing it until there’s enough data to prove it is safe for use and effective.
Riffle countered that those who benefit from using marijuana to ease pain “should be able to obtain it legally and safely.
“Our laws should promote the doctor-patient relationship, not the dealer-patient relationship,” he said in a news release.
Bensinger pointed to Colorado as a state that legalized medicinal marijuana as an example why the drug is dangerous. Quoting the Colorado Department of Transportation, he said the number of motor vehicle fatalities in accidents where the driver had used marijuana has grown from 23 in 2007 to 52 in 2011.
The National Black Church Initiative, with more than 3,700 member churches in Illinois, opposes the legislation.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug and the medical marijuana bill is no different,” the group’s president, the Rev. Anthony Evans, said in a statement.