05/05/2011 04:55 pm ET | Updated Jul 05, 2011

Illinois Medical Marijuana Bill Fails Again, Despite Republican Support

A bill to create a trial program that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in Illinois has failed in the state House, a heartbreaking defeat for supporters who thought they had the votes lined up this time around.

The measure got 53 votes in the Illinois State House, where it would have needed 60 to pass. Sixty-one legislators voted against it, with four voting present.

Supporters of the bill, including Representative Lou Lang, who has been pushing such a measure for years, were encouraged last week by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, who announced in a surprising reversal that he would support the measure. Cross made the decision after speaking with a number of chronic pain sufferers, including a disabled veteran. The leader also said he thought four or five additional Republicans might cross the aisle with him on the vote.

“The best prospects for passing this bill now comes because we have cooperation from the other side of the aisle,” an optimistic Lang said at the time.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. In fact, the bill got exactly the same number of votes as it did last November during the lame-duck session, when it also fell short.

Opponents in the House made familiar arguments against the pilot program, which would have expired in three years. “This is not a medicine, this is an illegal substance,” said Rep. Patricia Bellock, a Republican from Westmont, according to the State Journal-Register.

In fact, the new version of the bill had careful controls in place to restrict its use only to those suffering from chronic illness, who are often faced with the choice of intense pain or a potentially addictive prescription like methadone with debilitating side effects. From the Chicago Tribune:

...the use of marijuana would be limited to people with 19 specific illnesses that range from lupus to cancer.

Doses would have been dispensed from a limited number of highly regulated not-for-profits, rather than drugstores. Penalties including potential prison time were aimed at discouraging attempts to turn a medical prescription into dime bags on the street.

Lang put the measure on postponed consideration, to preserve the possibility of bringing it up later in the session, according to Capitol Fax.