CHICAGO A law allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes in Illinois was signed on Thursday by Governor Pat Quinn, making it the second most populous state in the country after California to permit medicinal use of the drug.
"Over the years, I've been moved by the brave patients and veterans who are fighting terrible illnesses," Quinn said. "They need and deserve pain relief."
The law, which takes effect January 1, allows patients diagnosed with one of 35 medical conditions such as cancer, Parkinson's or lupus to use marijuana as recommended by an Illinois licensed physician.
The four-year program, which supporters call the strictest in the nation, requires a doctor's written certification, registered patient photo identification cards and an electronic verification system.
The senate sponsor for the bill was Bill Haine, a downstate Democrat who is a former prosecutor. The bill passed the Illinois house and senate this past spring.
"We are ensuring only those suffering from the most serious diseases receive this treatment," said Haine. "This law takes additional steps to prevent fraud and abuse."
Nineteen other states plus the District of Columbia have effective medical marijuana laws, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a non-profit Washington, D.C.-based group. The project does not count Maryland on the list because it only allows for a "very limited research program," according to spokesman Morgan Fox.
Under the Illinois law, patients would be limited to 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of marijuana every two weeks. The marijuana must be grown and distributed in Illinois, kept in a closed container and not used in public or in front of minors.
Jim Champion, a veteran afflicted with multiple sclerosis, was among those who spoke with Quinn while he was considering the bill, according to Quinn's office.
"I use medical cannabis because it's the most effective medicine in treating my muscle spasticity with few side effects," Champion said. "My wife shouldn't have to go to drug dealers for my medicine. Neither of us deserve to be criminals."
Those who use, grow or sell the drug must be fingerprinted and undergo background checks. Landlords and employers could ban its use on their property. Users suspected of driving under the influence face the loss of not only their driving privileges, but also their marijuana-use permits.
Under U.S. federal law, marijuana is considered an addictive substance and distribution is a federal offense. The administration of President Barack Obama has discouraged federal prosecutors from pursuing people who distribute marijuana for medical purposes under state laws.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski. Editing by Andre Grenon)