Medical marijuana debate returns to state Capitol

March 15, 2007

Keith M. Phaneuf, Journal Inquirer (CT)

The question over whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes is back before state legislators.

The question, which has produced some rousing floor debates over the past four years, never has made it to the governor's desk.

But Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, one of its leading advocates, says she's optimistic that could change this time around.

"When you first hear about something you're unfamiliar with, there's a natural tendency to stay away," said Bacchiochi, who testified in favor of the measure recently before the General Law Committee. "But I think people have had a chance to understand this a little better now."

The bill pending this year would allow residents with certain debilitating medical conditions to both cultivate and use marijuana to ease their pain - provided a doctor provides an opinion that this would outweigh the health risks.

Connecticut has had a law since 1981 that allows marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, but doesn't allow patients to grow it. The only way for them to obtain it, therefore, is to purchase it illegally.

Bacchiochi, who has co-sponsored bills to legalize such use since she entered the legislature in 2003, says there is evidence of growing public acceptance.

The number of states allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes has grown since 2003 from four to 11.

A 2005 University of Connecticut poll found 83 percent of state residents support legalizing the medical use of marijuana.

"I have personally witnessed the devastating effects of terminal disease and the wasting away of life," she told the General Law Committee. "I can say with certainty that medical marijuana works."

Supporters argue that smoking the illegal drug can reduce everything from severe pain and nausea to seizures and persistent muscle spasms.

Bacchiochi has testified during past House debates that in the 1980s she risked arrest to buy marijuana for her husband, who had developed terminal bone cancer. Facing chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and surgery to remove a spinal tumor, he suffered intense pain and debilitating nausea until he died, she said, adding marijuana use lessened his suffering.

In 2004, the House rejected a bill to legalize medicinal use by 15 votes. In 2005, a similar measure passed 75-71, but the Senate never took up the matter.

A legalization bill started in the Senate last year, passing 19-15. It then died from inaction on the House calendar.

Opponents argue that legalizing certain marijuana use would send the wrong message to children about illegal drugs.

They also have said the pain-reducing effects of smoking marijuana can be obtained legally in pill or liquid medicinal form.




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