The Illinois House on Wednesday voted 61-57 to pass a proposal to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
House Bill 1 would create a four-year pilot program under which people with certain ailments, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis, could receive a doctor's permission to use marijuana.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which had passed a similar measure during a previous session of the legislature.
The measure's chief Senate sponsor is Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton.
"It's a major step, because the House held it up for three years," Haine said. "It's a much better bill."
He added: "Allowing limited and regulated access to medical marijuana is the compassionate thing to do; it is the right thing to do. I have faith that my fellow senators will see that passing this legislation gives those in pain a safe and legal way of easing their suffering."
About 250 Illinois doctors publicly supported the plan, saying medical use of marijuana can be safer and more effective than narcotic painkillers for some patients.
Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, said the measure would help "stop the pain, the suffering, the everyday drudgery" suffered by people with serious ailments.
"This isn't legalization of marijuana," Hoffman said. "This is legalization of medical marijuana... It's legalizing it for very specific purposes."
Opponents argued that it would lead to abuse of marijuana, and that it would be difficult to accurately determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
Proponents said the bill is much more strict than previous bills. For example, a medical marijuana user suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana must submit to field-sobriety testing, otherwise his or her driver's license will be suspended. The driver's medical marijuana card would be revoked, too.
Supporters said marijuana can relieve continual pain without triggering the harmful effects of other prescription drugs. They touted the legislation as a compassionate measure that would save patients from the agony caused by illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV.
"I know every single one of you have compassion in your heart, this is the day to show it," said Rep. Lou Lang, the sponsor of the bill. "... Let people feel better, let them have a better quality of life."
The bill lists more than 30 medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed marijuana.
The proposal prohibits patients from growing their own marijuana. Instead, the state must approve 22 cultivation centers, as well as 60 dispensaries where patients could buy the drug after getting a prescription from a doctor with whom they have an existing relationship. The legislation sets a 2.5 ounce limit per patient per purchase.
Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, said the bill is the strictest in the nation. Still, opponents say the program would encourage the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
"It's going to cause confusion in our communities," said Republican Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro. "... I guarantee you that we will be back adjusting this legislation or we would be back in this floor for the legalization of marijuana."
Lang and other supporters have been trying to legalize medical marijuana for several years. A measure that had cleared the Senate failed in the House in 2011, when six Republicans and 50 Democrats voted yes.
Gov. Pat Quinn, asked Wednesday if he'd support the bill, said he's "certainly open-minded to it."
The Democratic governor said he was recently visited by a veteran suffering from war founds who was helped by the medical use of marijuana. Quinn said he was "impressed by his heartfelt feeling" on the issue.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
A report issued earlier this month by the Pew Research Center poll showed that 77 percent of Americans say marijuana has legitimate medical uses.
How House members from the metro-east voted:
* Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton: No
* Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: No
* Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton: No
* Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville: Yes
* Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: Yes
* Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: No
* Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No