SPRINGFIELD—A plan to let minors with epilepsy use medical marijuana passed 98-18 Wednesday in the House, with support from several Republicans who initially voted against the marijuana law.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, sponsored a bill that permits those under the age of 18 with epilepsy to take a derivative of medical cannabis—and specifically notes it may not be smoked. 

“These people are not interested in getting high,” Lang said. “These are folks that are interested in alleviating their seizures.”

Senate Bill 2636 goes back to the Senate because of changes in the bill that would open the door for the Department of Public Health to extend medicinal marijuana to minors with other “debilitating medical conditions” such as cancer, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s. 

The GOP caucus was divided on the issue: 14 Republicans voted no; 32 voted yes. 

Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, said while she’d be open to extending the current marijuana law to kids with epilepsy, she didn’t think it was wise to give the Department of Public Health the power to extend medicinal marijuana law to minors with other conditions. 

“We’re giving them a lot of leeway to decide…what conditions this product could be used for, setting it up with the rulemakers and not just specifying that it’s only for epilepsy—which we know it helps epilepsy,” Ives said. “They’re going to have a lot of leeway here.”

But several Republicans supported Lang’s bill, including Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, who both initially voted against the medicinal marijuana law.

The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot, which passed into law last August, had an effect date of Jan. 1, 2014. However, the act has not yet been put into practice due to pending rulemaking in the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. 

Durkin said he was particularly moved by the stories he’s heard concerning the reduction of seizures in children who take medicinal marijuana.

“I don’t know how you can ignore these fact situations, these anecdotal situations, of the terrible tragedy that these families are going through, particularly these young children,” Durkin said.  “The fact is: parents have no other way to go. The medicines these children are taking are so strong that they’re equally as debilitating as the actual infliction of the seizure that these children have.”

Sandack said there are “compelling reasons for this bill,” given that the medicine to suppress seizures would not be smoked, would not be addictive and would be effective.

“It now makes no sense to limit the ability for minors, juveniles with epilepsy, the ability to get a byproduct—frankly, a very limiting non-gateway-esque component of an oil—that could give them relief,” Sandack said. 

Durkin added that passing the bill would “improve the quality of life” for children living a “horrible” life.

“I believe this is the right thing to do,” he said.