CHICAGO
06/26/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Downstate County Sheriffs Make Confusing Arguments Against Legalizing Marijuana In Illinois

The talk of legalizing medical marijuana in Illinois has been heating up in recent weeks, as Illinois lawmakers have until January to vote for a bill that would legalize the drug for medical purposes. While polling shows support for legalized medical marijuana in Illinois, some law enforcement officials downstate are not too keen on the idea--though their reasoning is a bit unclear.

"I'm against it," Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman told The Southern. "They're going to continue to use drugs, so why legalize it?"

A member of the Perry County Drug Task Force and the Illinois Sheriff's Association's legislative committee, Kellerman said cannabis prohibition laws aren't stopping people from using the drug, so removing the laws will only enhance the problem of drug use.

It was unclear whether the newspaper asked Kellerman is he was against marijuana use for medical purposes as well, but another downstate sheriff told the paper that he was not sold on the research proving that medical marijuana helps people suffering from certain ailments:

Union County Sheriff David Livesay said he's heard information on both sides of the legal marijuana debate, but can't say he would approve of legalization.

"I don't know if legalizing marijuana is the answer," he said. "I hate to say it would be."

Livesay said he's heard a lot lately about the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, but doesn't think evidence supporting the cause is significant enough to merit legalization.

"Until we can see some studies where it showed something of more significance, I'd be opposed to that," he said.

According to the New York Times, studies have "shown convincingly" that marijuana can relieve nausea and improve appetite among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, alleviate aching and numbness among H.I.V. and AIDS patients and ameliorate some neurological problems associated with such degenerative diseases as multiple sclerosis.

In Illinois, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, would allow someone diagnosed with a "debilitating medical condition" to have up to six cannabis plants. The Chicago Reader reports that the Illinois Department of Public Health would determine procedural specifics, and the law would expire three years after taking effect unless renewed by the legislature.

According to a poll from the Marijuana Policy Project, 68 percent of Illinois voters support the bill. Lang also said he has support in the House, but worries that private statements of support may not translate into votes.

Nearly 40 of the representatives who support the bill in private say they fear the political fallout of casting an "aye" vote for it in the harsh light of day.

Medical marijuana has been technically legal in Illinois since 1978, but the law passed over 30 years ago, the Cannabis Control Act, required the Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Police to enact new policies on pot before it could be legally distributed--it never did. The House vote on Rep. Lang's bill would be the final step needed to put the 1978 law into effect.

On January 12, 2011, a new General Assembly will be sworn in, and if by that time the bill hasn't passed the House, the Senate's vote-- won't matter any more; it will be back to square one.