Monday, June 28, 2010

Plan to burn pot riles activists

Julie Falco got hot under the collar when she learned Cook County would burn 5,500 pounds of cannabis seized last week in one of its largest busts.

"Depending on its purity, that represents a lot of medicine that could have helped so many Illinoisans," said the North Side woman who uses marijuana to ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

The reaction was echoed by others calling on the state to join 14 others in legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes. It also follows last Wednesday's seizure of 5,525 pounds of cannabis.

The cache, carrying a street value of $20 million, was found in a house on West 47th Street in southwest suburban Lyons, police said Friday. A man renting the property, Frederico Moreno, 35, has been charged with manufacturing and delivery cannabis. He faces 6 to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Police are planning to incinerate all but 10,000 grams of the marijuana, saving that amount as evidence.

"We will solicit a court order today to have the rest incinerated safely," Kevin Ruel, deputy chief of special investigations for the Cook County sheriff's office, said Friday.

Advocates for legalization object to the move.

"Incinerating it is a waste," said Lisa Lange, who relies on cannabis to ease chronic pain associated with degenerative osteoarthritis. "I would prefer to see it tested and then, if safe, distributed to compassionate care clubs."

Still, she argued that the size of the seizure -- product police allege was bound for Chicago streets -- won't dent local supply.

"The only way to stop this trafficking is to show compassion of those who rely on medical cannabis and pass Bill 1381," said Lange, who like Falco is working with various groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C.

'There is support on both sides'

The Illinois Senate has already passed that legislation. House Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) is planning to introduce it for a vote in the House as early as November.

He now has 58 of the 60 votes needed to get the measure passed in January, he said Saturday. The liberal Democrat said he's confident the remaining votes can be secured after the pressure of November elections has passed.

"There is support on both sides," he said Saturday. "What we have is a very narrow piece of legislation that avoids the problems of dispensaries like those in California."

Bill 1381 would stop short of setting up those businesses, which operate in many of the 14 states with medical marijuana laws. The Illinois legislation is the most limited and would require patients to cultivate marijuana plants at home, restricting them to having three mature specimens at any one time. They would also be responsible for cultivating the seeds. If passed, the the legislation would expire after three years.

They're compromises, but ones Falco hopes will satisfy lawmakers and lead to broader legalization in three years.

"It's only a start," she said.

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