By Joanne von Alroth
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Illinois House of Representatives voted narrowly on Wednesday to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, bringing the state a step closer to becoming the 21st in the United States to allow some form of pot use to treat illness.
The chamber voted 61 to 57 in favor of a measure to allow patients with a doctor's permission to use marijuana. The measure will now go to the state senate. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has said he is open minded on the proposal.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have voted for some form of medical marijuana. The most recent was Maryland, where lawmakers gave final approval earlier this month. Washington state and Colorado have gone further and approved marijuana for recreational use.
The Illinois measure sets up a four-year, state-regulated pilot program effective next January allowing a maximum of 60 places to grow marijuana for medical uses. If another law has not been approved by the end of the four years, the pilot program would end.
Residents of Illinois with certain medical conditions would be allowed to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana and would only be able to buy pot from one provider. Illinois patients would not be able to cultivate marijuana for their own use.
Jessica Bauer, a 27-year-old Rockford, Illinois, mother with pancreatic cancer, said medical marijuana would allow her to live out her days with dignity.
"I shouldn't have to live in fear of arrest for using it or have to resort to the illicit market to obtain it," Bauer was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports medical marijuana.
Opponents of the measure stressed the difficulty of regulating marijuana use. "Every state that has implemented this has had problems," said Republican state Representative Mike Bost.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog and Joanne von Alroth; Editing by Greg McCune)