2014 ushers in new state laws on issues from medical marijuana to tanning beds

Chicago Tribune –

By Monique Garcia, Chicago Tribune reporterIt was a history-making year at the state Capitol, with lawmakers legalizing gay marriage, allowing medical marijuana for those with chronic illnesses, permitting concealed handguns and approving major changes to the government worker pension system.

But those high-profile measures represent just a handful of new laws to be put on the books, with more than 200 rules and regulations set to take effect Jan. 1. The laws will affect everything from how students are taught sex education in public schools to who can use a tanning bed to how dogs can be legally tethered outside.

“Obviously, pension reform was the big issue and I think nothing else even came close to that in terms of the importance to the people of this state,” said Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. “But I think a lot of the legislation we undertook really reflects the concerns of the day. They are all issues that across the country are very timely right now.”

Medical marijuana

The New Year ushers in the official start of a four-year trial program that would allow patients with certain chronic illnesses to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana. However, the afflicted still are many months from being able to light up legally as state regulators are working out rules and have yet to issue licenses for marijuana growers and dispensing centers.

Supporters say Illinois’ medical marijuana law is among the toughest in the nation. Patients cannot legally grow their own supplies and must have an existing relationship with their prescribing doctor. Patients and caregivers will be fingerprinted and undergo background checks, and must promise not to sell or give away marijuana. Workers at 22 grow centers and 60 dispensaries will undergo the same vetting.

Precisely where growers and sellers could locate will be determined by state regulators. While suburbs are putting in place strict zoning laws to limit where marijuana could be sold or grown, local officials cannot prevent such businesses from opening in their towns. Property owners would have the ability to ban marijuana use on their grounds. Employers would maintain their rights to a drug-free workplace, meaning someone with a valid medical marijuana card could be fired for using the drug if their employer prohibits it.

Sex education

Public schools that teach sex education will now be required to provide students information about birth control, a departure from previous policy in which abstinence was the only required curriculum.

Backers argue that abstinence-only education is not effective and that students should be taught about other methods of birth control and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Those opposed to the change say parents should decide how to educate their kids about sex.

Schools still have the option to not teach sex education, and the law allows school districts to set their own “age-appropriate” lesson plans and allow parents to examine instructional materials. Parents also can opt to keep their children out of sex education classes without penalty.

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