Case made again for prescription pot

July 18, 2006

Gregory B. Hladky, Bristol Press

HARTFORD -- The doctor-widow of a cancer victim, the head of Hartford Hospital’s cancer center and a patient suffering from paralysis and spasms all called on Connecticut lawmakers Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana.
"At a time when we were most vulnerable, I had to choose between my livelihood and the welfare of my husband," Dr. Nancy Sheehan of the University of Connecticut said about her efforts to buy marijuana for her cancer-victim husband.

Sheehan said that, until he died in 2002, marijuana helped her husband Jim deal much more easily with the pain, loss of appetite and energy brought on by his colon cancer. "His quality of life was dramatically improved," she recalled.

Dr. Andrew Salner, director of Hartford Hospital’s Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center also spoke in support of allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. He said that "a select group of patients clearly are helped by marijuana during their cancer experience."

And Mark Braunstein, who was paralyzed below the waist by a severe accident in 1990, described how marijuana has helped ease the spasms and pain that have accompanied his injury.

Although a medical marijuana bill won state House approval last year, its opponents managed to kill it through the General Assembly committee process before it ever reached the Senate for a final vote.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting the measure say they believe this will be the year that Connecticut joins the 11 other states that have approved medical marijuana laws to help victims of cancer, glaucoma and other diseases.

The new bill would allow a doctor to prescribe marijuana and allow a patient to grow up to five marijuana plants for medical use without fear of arrest or prosecution.

But critics such as state Sen. George L. ‘Doc’ Gunther, R-Stratford, said he doesn’t think the bill will survive a Senate vote. "I doubt it," said Gunther, the longest-serving member of the General Assembly.

"I don’t think there is any justification for it," Gunther said. "Oncologists, if they’re honest, will tell you that we don’t need it, that we have much better, more effective medications available."

Gunther also said he and other critics fear that allowing patients to grow marijuana for personal medical use will eventually result in abuses. "It’s going to find its way into the illegal market," Gunther warned.

The bill’s co-sponsors, state Reps. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, and Melissa Olson, D-Norwich, rejected Gunther’s arguments.

"More than 300 Connecticut doctors have signed on in writing that they support this bill," said Bacchiochi.

"Illegal use of marijuana is going to go on whether we pass this bill or not," Olson said.

State Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, is another supporter of the bill who believes that it may stand a better chance of passage in the General Assembly this year.

"I think the fact that it passed the House last year will give it more momentum," Harp said. "There’s a lot more energy around the issue this year than in the past."

Harp said that the Senate’s reluctance to take up the medical marijuana bill last year appeared to be related to the fact that 2004 was a legislative election year. She said legislative leaders may have worried that the issue could cause problems for some Democrats involve in close reelection races.


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