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Illinois State Senate | Medical Marijuana Bill
Illinois Senate bill would make medical marijuana an alternative to opioids

CARBONDALE — The Illinois Senate has passed a bill aimed at providing alternatives to opioid prescription.

Senate Bill 336 allows any condition for which opioids could be prescribed to the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical cannabis program. Basically, this means individuals who might otherwise take an opioid would be eligible to use medical marijuana.

The legislation creates a pilot program that allows patients to take a physician certification to a dispensary to receive medical cannabis. Patients can participate in the program and use medical cannabis to help them transition off their initial opioid prescription, or to treat their pain without ever using opioids, according to a news release from the bill’s sponsor, Don Harmon, D-Oak Park.

“We know that medical cannabis is a safe alternative treatment for the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed,” Harmon said. “This legislation aims to stop dependence before it begins by providing an immediate alternative.”

Dispensaries would be required to verify the physician certification and dispense medical cannabis in set amounts based on the recommended duration of the opioid prescription. The patient would be given an endorsement card indicating that they are in lawful possession of medical cannabis.

The bill was passed by a 44-6 vote and is currently in the rules committee in the Illinois House.

Both Southern Illinois senators Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, and Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, voted in favor of the measure.


Fowler said the legislation is in response to the growing opioid crisis in the state, which has cost the lives of over 10,000 Illinoisans in the past decade alone.

“By supporting the implementation of a pilot program, lawmakers are seeking realistic solutions to a very concerning public health crisis while also ensuring that we are providing medical relief to patients who are in pain and suffering,” Fowler said. “Moving forward, we should continue to seek out ways to address the escalating epidemic we are seeing with opioid usage across the nation, acknowledging that there may be other avenues to explore that help patients deal with their pain and also recognize that opioids may not be the best or only path forward.”

Schimpf called the bill a common sense step in addressing the opioid epidemic.

“It allows doctors to act on a determination that medical marijuana represents a better treatment alternative for their patient than opioids,” he said. “I hope this passes the House and is signed by Gov. Rauner."

Illinois officials have recently rolled out a statewide effort to fight opioid abuse. In December, the Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force established an all-hours helpline to provide assistance to those impacted by pain-killer addiction.

According to the most recent data, yearly opioid overdose deaths in Illinois are nearing the 2,000 mark. Task force leaders say they aim to "combat further drug overdose tragedies."

Dr. Jeff Ripperda, a family medicine doctor in Murphysboro, said there has been some research indicating that opening access to marijuana does drop the number of opiates prescribed for any given area. However, he says he doesn’t believe it can be concretely said that cannabis is an effective medication, making access to it easier does seem to reduce the number of opiates prescribed.

Additionally, Ripperda said about 10 percent of the people who use marijuana meet the criteria for addiction to it.

“We also know that expanding access expands usage, so expanding access to marijuana will likely increase the number of people addicted to marijuana,” he said. “I know that marijuana overdoses are exceedingly rare, but a marijuana addict who sits in his basement doing nothing all day except smoking and thinking about where his next bit of cannabis is coming from isn't exactly a productive member of society.”

Overall, Ripperda said he doesn’t have a strong opinion on the proposed bill, adding he sees benefits and drawbacks.

“I don't like the implication that medical cannabis is a definitively valid treatment for any condition,” he said. “I do like that opening access to cannabis decreases the number of opiates used. I'm a little disappointed that lawmakers aren't approaching the topic with a little more nuance, but I'm frequently disappointed in this regard.”

He said a slight change that would put him on board with the legislation is that if those who received a medical marijuana card were not permitted to get opiate prescriptions starting medical cannabis.

“The idea of cannabis as medicine has some strong counter arguments —scientific, legal, and philosophical — but opioid use in America is currently the bigger problem,” Ripperda said. “The inability to be perfect should not preclude the ability to be better.”

Trump: Repayment not campaign-related

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insisted Thursday his reimbursement of a 2016 hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels had nothing to do with his election campaign. But the surprise revelation of the president's payment clashed with his past statements, created new legal headaches and stunned many in the West Wing.

White House aides were blindsided when Trump's recently added attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night that the president had repaid Michael Cohen for $130,000 that was given to Daniels to keep her quiet before the 2016 election about her allegations of an affair with Trump. Giuliani's revelation, which seemed to contradict Trump's past statements, came as the president's newly configured outside legal team pursued his defense, apparently with zero coordination with the West Wing.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she first learned that Trump had repaid the hush money from Giuliani's interview on Fox News Channel's "Hannity." Staffers' phones began to buzz within moments. Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, who had pre-taped an interview with Fox News earlier Wednesday evening, was suddenly summoned to return for a live interview.

While Giuliani said the payment to Daniels was "going to turn out to be perfectly legal," legal experts said the new information raised a number of questions, including whether the money represented repayment of an undisclosed loan or could be seen as reimbursement for a campaign expenditure. Either could be legally problematic.

Giuliani insisted Trump didn't know the specifics of Cohen's arrangement with Daniels until recently, telling "Fox & Friends" on Thursday that the president didn't know all the details until "maybe 10 days ago." Giuliani told The New York Times that Trump had repaid Cohen $35,000 a month "out of his personal family account" after the campaign was over. He said Cohen received $460,000 or $470,000 in all for expenses related to Trump.

But no debt to Cohen was listed on Trump's personal financial disclosure form, which was certified on June 16, 2017. Asked if Trump had filed a fraudulent form, Sanders said: "I don't know."

Giuliani said the payment was not a campaign finance violation, but also acknowledged that Daniels' hushed-up allegations could have affected the campaign, saying: "Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton."

Questions remain about just what Trump knew and when.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is seeking to be released from a non-disclosure deal she signed in the days before the 2016 election to keep her from talking about a 2006 sexual encounter she said she had with Trump. She has also filed defamation suits against Cohen and Trump.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One several weeks ago, Trump said he did not know about the payment or where the money came from. In a phone interview with "Fox and Friends" last week, however, he appeared to muddy the waters, saying that Cohen represented him in the "crazy Stormy Daniels deal."

Sanders said Thursday that Trump "eventually learned" about the payment, but she did not offer details.

For all the controversy Giuliani stirred up, some Trump supporters said it was wise to get the payment acknowledgement out in the open.

Said former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: "You know, there's an old saying in the law, 'Hang a lantern on your problems.' ... So the fact is that Rudy has to go out there now and clean it up. That's what lawyers get hired to do."

Daniels herself weighed in via Twitter, saying: "I don't think Cohen is qualified to 'clean up' my horse's manure. Too soon?"

Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, who engaged in his own press tour Thursday, slammed both Trump and Giuliani.

"The admissions by Mr. Giuliani as to Mr. Trump's conduct and the acts of Mr. Cohen are directly contrary to the lies previously told to the American people," he said. "There will ultimately be severe consequences."

Trump is facing mounting legal threats from the Cohen-Daniels situation and the special counsel's investigation of Russian meddling in the election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

Cohen is facing a criminal investigation in New York, and FBI agents raided his home and office several weeks ago seeking records about the Daniels nondisclosure agreement. Giuliani has warned Trump that he fears Cohen, the president's longtime personal attorney, will "flip," bending in the face of a potential prison sentence, and he has urged Trump to cut off communications with him, according to a person close to Giuliani.

The president's self-proclaimed legal fixer has been surprised and concerned by Trump's recent stance toward him, according to a Cohen confidant. Cohen was dismayed to hear Trump marginalize his role during an interview last week with "Fox & Friends" and interpreted a recent negative National Enquirer cover story as a warning shot from a publication that has long been cozy with Trump, said the person who was not authorized to talk about private conversations and spoke only on condition of anonymity. Cohen also had not indicated to friends that Trump's legal team was going to contradict his original claim that he was not reimbursed for the payment to Daniels.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney, joined Trump's legal team last month. He told CNN on Thursday that the announcement of Trump's repayment of the hush money was a planned strategy, saying: "You won't see daylight between me and the president." He was quickly backed up by Trump, who said on Twitter that he had repaid Cohen.


Herrin, Du Quoin win team titles at a rainy SIRR girls track conference meet. Sports, Page C1. 

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SIU Board of Trustees
In open letter, SIU board chair responds to reports of infighting


CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees Chair Amy Sholar is disputing recent reports of a leadership crisis within the system.

In an open letter to the SIU community, released late Wednesday afternoon, Sholar defends her support of a proposal to shift $5.1 million in state appropriation funding from SIU Carbondale to SIU Edwardsville — a measure that failed to pass at the board’s April 12 meeting.

“I was dismayed and disappointed that some would not even entertain the idea of giving Edwardsville a chance at some of those dollars, especially after Carbondale has relied so heavily on the other campuses to keep its financial ship afloat,” Sholar writes.

She argues that she brought the discussion on funding allocation before the board “in the spirit of transparency,” and that the matter is not evidence of infighting.

“We have great leadership in and across the SIU System, so to me it is disingenuous to argue that our System’s leadership is ineffective because one campus is struggling, especially when two of the three campuses are flourishing,” she writes.

Throughout the letter, Sholar appears to allude to comments trustee Phil Gilbert made in a story about divisions within the board that ran April 29 in The Southern Illinoisan.

Gilbert was critical of SIU System President Randy Dunn’s decision to remain neutral on the recently introduced legislation to separate SIU Carbondale and SIU Edwardsville. (Sholar also said she would take no official stance on the issue.)

Sholar writes that system officials could not take a position on the matter because they have not yet received any direction from the board. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is July 12; Sholar writes that no one has called on her to convene a special meeting to discuss the issue publicly.

“To me, it seems logical that with such an important issue, it would go without saying that the President and System-level employees would not act without Board approval,” Sholar writes.


Trial set to start Tuesday for Christopher man accused in wife's death
Provided by Franklin County Sheriff's Office 

Brian Pheasant

BENTON — The Christopher man who is accused of murdering his wife in 2016 will face trial next week. In a Thursday pretrial conference, the state and defense appeared ready to begin jury selection Tuesday.

Brian Pheasant was arrested after Christopher police were called on Halloween night 2016 to his home, where they found Pheasant’s wife, Beth Pheasant, dead. Brian Pheasant was taken into custody and arraigned Nov. 2. He was charged with two counts of murder in the first degree, and pleaded not guilty.

Thursday’s proceedings were without surprises — Franklin County State’s Attorney Evan Owens said the state had its case prepared. Paula Newcomb, Pheasant’s defense attorney, said she had some slight modifications to her witness list. Beyond that, neither could foresee any more issues or motions that would be made before the start of trial.

It was speculated by both parties that the trial could last longer than one week.

Judge Thomas Tedeschi said during Tuesday’s jury selection process that he wanted to limit prospective spectators — he said this was to ensure possible jurors were not exposed to people involved with the trial.

After the conference, Newcomb said she felt “confident” going into the start of trial. She declined to make any further comment.

Beth Pheasant was a mother to six children and grandmother to one. Family and friends met to celebrate her life on Nov. 5, 2016 in Christopher. Her loved ones have also made routine appearances at many of Brian Pheasant’s court appearances.

Pheasant’s case was initially set for trial in February 2017, however the timeline was extended after a motion hearing in January of that year. Newcomb objected to Owens' motion to test DNA collected from the alleged murder weapon. The test would have used up the sample pulled from the gun — one swab was used to test the grip, trigger and slide of the gun — which Newcomb took issue with.

During that hearing, Newcomb said she thought it was suspect that one swab would be used to test all three locations on the weapon.

Judge Eric Dirnbeck said it seemed to him that Newcomb was objecting based on speculation that there could possibly be other DNA samples than what was listed in the motion presented by the state. However, based on how he read it, he felt that the report was clear and that perhaps the suspicion was based on wishful thinking.

Ultimately, Newcomb settled for being present during testing in Belleville. The testing took months to schedule and execute and was a primary stumbling block to getting a trial date in the case scheduled.

An October trial date was eventually set for the case but was again pushed back to give time for a psychiatric evaluation to be performed on Pheasant. The date was then scheduled for March 6, but was again pushed back because of a series of motions to suppress, namely a portion of an hours long interview video that would take the better part of a day to hear arguments on.

The court finally settled on the May 8 trial date.

Provided by Franklin County Sheriff's Office 

Brian Pheasant