Illinois' Medical Marijuana Program At Odds With Federal Policy

Oct 14, 2014

Judge Ann Callis, who is Democrats' nominee for the the 13th Congressional district, and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, hold a press conference in Springfield Monday.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

As Illinois begins to allow people with certain diseases to use cannabis as medicine, the state will be running afoul of federal law.

It may be spring before patients will be able to buy medical marijuana (the application process is going on now). Whenever it happens, the state will be in tricky territory: the federal government classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.

That raises challenges, like: can an business in the cannabis industry deposit money in federally-regulated banks?

Other states are already dealing with the dilemma. Colorado and Washington allow recreational pot. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, says the government will have to resolve it. "They talk about states being laboratories, and that's what we're seeing. Let's see what happens on the ground there," Durbin said.

Durbin says though he has supported the medicinal use, he's against decriminalizing marijuana.

"Now there are some who want to say, 'now let's open the doors. Let's treat marijuana like chewing gum.' I'm not, I'm not there yet,” he says. Durbin is running for re-election against State Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, who was one of a few Republicans to vote for Illinois' medical marijuana law.

Oberweis's campaign didn't return a call seeking comment. He has been quoted as being open to legalizing -- and taxing -- marijuana, but says that's a state, not a federal, issue.

Durbin made his comments at a Springfield press conference, with Ann Callis, who stepped down from her seat as Chief Judge in Madison County in order to run for Congress. She is Democrats' nominee in the 13th District, which covers much of central Illinois.

Callis says given her experience as a felony trial judge, she is against decriminalizing marijuana, a policy change that has been suggested by some politicians as a way to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

Instead, Callis says she favors alternative sentencing, like the use of drug courts.

"I have lived it, I have worked it and I know that these types of restorative justice programs work. And they're not giving anybody a free pass. They're difficult to go through, to graduate from these programs,"she said.

Callis is running against incumbent Republican Rodney Davis. A spokesman says Davis believes these are issues to be decided by states, and Illinois should pay attention to how things are going in Colorado and Washington.

Davis voted for a measure this summer that prohibits federal interference with state medical marijuana laws and implementation. He's also a sponsor of a plan that would allow children with epilepsy to use hemp oil, and an oil from cannabis known as Cannabidiol, or CBD, oil as therapy.

Durbin and Callis had called the press conference to talk about the effects of their respective opponents' fiscal plans. About a year ago, a fight over the federal budget led to a government shutdown, and partisan tensions remain over what to do about popular, but expensive, programs.

"I was in Calhoun County at a pig roast, and a woman came up to me and she grabbed my arm and she said 'Please, do everything you can to protect Medicare and Social Security,"Callis said.

Durbin says that includes fending off Republican initiatives, like raising Medicare's eligibility age, and moving it to a voucher system.

"So they want to turn seniors lose to the mercies of health insurance companies. Most people know … that that is not a comfortable, or a confident position to be in," he said. Oberweis has proposed raising Medicare's eligibility age to 67; he's also suggested means tests to limit Social Security benefits for the wealthy.

Davis's campaign manager says he's working to protect Social Security and Medicare, with changes that will exempt seniors close to retirement.