DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk staked out opposing positions on marijuana today during a coffee with constituents on Capitol Hill.
Durbin, a Democrat, said he supported the use of medical marijuana for people with conditions such as glaucoma. Kirk, a Republican, said he preferred that marijuana “be restricted as much as possible.”
Illinois lawmakers this year approved a pilot program to allow patients with serious illnesses to use medical marijuana.
“The medical marijuana laws in many states are really rapidly changing the public view toward marijuana,” Durbin said. “So I think we are evolving toward a situation where there are less punitive responses to the use of marijuana.”
Still, Durbin said he could not support decriminalization of marijuana because he worried about it being a “gateway” drug. He said several friends had children who had become addicted to serious drugs.
But he said marijuana possession should not be treated in a criminal fashion, expressing concern over prisons being filled with non-violent offenders who had either possessed drugs or sold only small quantities of them. He said young people who made “stupid decisions early in life” and tried marijuana shouldn’t have that “dog” them for the rest of their lives.
While Kirk said he favored full restrictions on marijuana, he did not comment directly on medical marijuana or Illinois’ new law, which takes effect next year.
He said he was worried about young people’s academic achievement.
“In my own life, there were kids that in the ’70s we would call the ‘burnouts’ who were heavily smoking,” Kirk said. “Those kids, as they got to their 50s, were generally much lower performing in their careers and their lives. I don’t want kids to have the opportunity to see what a life like that is like.”