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Medical Marijuana Technically Legal in Illinois Since 1978


Last night I made a post about the widely unknown medical marijuana law in Virginia. While I was researching that I found that, just like in Virginia, Illinois also technically legalized medical marijuana over 30 years ago.

In 1978 the Illinois legislature passed a Cannabis Control Act to try and bring sense to the state’s drug laws. The act states that even though marijuana causes, “physical, psychological and sociological damage…it occupies the unusual position of being widely used and pervasive,” in Illinois, and so it was time to establish a “reasonable penalty system” that focused on “commercial traffickers and large-scale purveyors.”

Even then, marijuana was widely being accredited for its medicinal benefits, so the act granted the Illinois Department of Human Services permission to authorize licensed physicians to use it to treat “glaucoma, the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy in cancer patients or such other procedure certified to be medically necessary.”

There were two catches, however. Firstly, the Human services was not required to give doctors the authority to prescribe medical cannabis, it only stated that they could. Secondly, it could only act “with the written approval of the Department of State Police.” So basically this meant that in order for medical marijuana to actually be prescribed and distributed, two separate state departments had to first create new policies; and to this day, neither one has.

There is hope for the near future though. Sate Representative Lou Lang is at the head of the medical marijuana push in Illinois. Lang is proposing a three year pilot program, which has already passed the Senate, and he hopes that once this November election is over, lawmakers will conjure up the political courage to vote for his bill.

Lang recognizes marijuana is not very dangerous, particularly when compared not to alcohol or other drugs, but to narcotic prescription drugs, which are legal and which can be fatal.

Lang says he can count on 57 House votes, three short of the minimum, but more than 30 other representatives have told him they wish they could vote for it but are afraid to. Lang hopes that changes after Election Day, when the General Assembly is back for a veto session that will include a number of lame ducks.

This is all the information I could dig up so far so I am still looking for more. Please, if something I said is inaccurate or you can expand on it, leave and a comment and let me know!


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Johnny Green


  1. Many states (around 30 I think) passed similar legislation back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including mine. Just like in IL though, the medical cannabis program was never implemented here. I’ve always wondered if such a law on the books would allow for a medical necessity defense in these states. Funny, more states had medical cannabis back then than now.

  2. phil ucciferri on

    Did you know that in NY state, according to the penalties posted at http://law.findlaw.com/state-laws/marijuana/new-york/, possession of less than 25grams of the herb is punishable by only a $100 fine, and without criminal status. Below I have copied and pasted that penal code section posted.


    Code Section Penal §220, et seq.; Pub. Health §3306, 3307
    Possession Under 25g: $100; Over 25 g. or public use: Class B misdemeanor; Over 2 oz.: Class A misdemeanor; Over 8 oz.: Class E felony; Over 16 oz.: Class D felony; Over 10 lbs.: Class C felony; Subsequent offense: Under 25 g.: $200; Third offense: $250 and 15 days
    Sale Under 2 g. or 1 cigarette: Class B misdemeanor; Under 25 g.: Class A misdemeanor; Over 25 g.: Class E felony; Over 4 oz. or sale to a minor: Class D felony; Over 16 oz.: Class C felony

    I was surprised to learn this and thought that others may be interested to know it. Who knows if the posting is correct though???

  3. Sure, I will give you a little more background on the Cannabis Control Act. The reason cannabis is in a separate statute is because the IL Supreme Court struck down a previous statute that put cannabis in the same category as narcotics. Not 100% sure, but I think IL passed a law very similar to the federal controlled substances act and which had various schedules of drugs. Like the feds, IL had lumped cannabis in with heroine and cocaine, etc…

    Some guy convicted of a cannabis crime challenged cannabis’ classification and it got appealed to the IL Sup Ct which agreed with the defendant that cannabis was wrongly classified. This forced the legislature to take up the cannabis issue again and the result is the cannabis control act. You are correct that neither the dept of health or the state police ever actually did anything with reference to the medical side. There is also a section dealing with research that is a dead letter even though the act itself encourages more research into cannabis.

    A quick google search did not disclose the case name but it’s hard to find info from the 70’s.

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