Medical marijuana bill gets House nod

May 23, 2007

Gregory B. Hladky, Capitol Bureau Chief, New Haven Register (CT)

HARTFORD — Legislation to allow patients suffering from cancer or other major illnesses to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use won state House approval Wednesday.

House lawmakers voted 89-58 in favor of the bill despite warnings from opponents that it would authorize such patients to break federal drug laws, undermine the anti-drug message to young people and lead to increased abuse of marijuana.

But advocates for the bill argued it would remove the threat of arrest and prosecution for seriously ill patients and their caregivers who are already buying and using marijuana to alleviate their symptoms.

The measure now goes to the state Senate for action.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Wednesday she hasn?t made up her mind what she would do if the bill reaches her desk. "I have some mixed emotions," said Rell, adding she would consider signing the bill despite her concerns.

During nearly six hours of sometimes emotional debate, House lawmakers told of their personal experiences on both sides of the issue: about friends and family members suffering from terrible diseases or from drug addiction.

"Today we have the opportunity to give relief to Connecticut citizens who are sick and wasting away," said state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, who described how she bought marijuana for her late husband during his battle with cancer.

"At one point in my life, I purchased marijuana for someone I loved, someone sick, and I would do it again," said Bacchiochi. But she said that, without a change in the law, such an illegal purchase of marijuana for a suffering patient would be done "with fear of losing my self-respect in my community."

"Be it a curse or a blessing, I have come to know a lot about medical marijuana," Bacchiochi said in a trembling voice as she sought to convince her colleagues to have Connecticut join the other 12 states that have passed similar laws.

The co-chairman of the legislature?s Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, said the purchase and use of marijuana by patients in Connecticut "has in effect already been decriminalized" because law enforcement officials refuse to make arrests in such cases.

Doctors routinely prescribe drugs "that are much more powerful, much more dangerous and much more addictive than marijuana," Lawlor said.

Deputy House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she doesn?t think passage of a medical marijuana bill would make it any easier for teens to obtain the drug.

"I really believe this bill is not going to make it worse ? Anybody at this moment in time ? anybody who wants to get pot will get pot," Klarides said. "This bill is not going to help them get it and it?s not going to put the idea in their heads."

Lawlor said Connecticut law already authorizes doctors to prescribe medical use of marijuana for their patients but that patients have no legal access to it because of federal and state anti-drug laws.

Under the bill, a patient could not be prosecuted for possessing or purchasing or growing small amounts of marijuana as long as he or she had a doctor?s prescription and got a license from the state. Patients or caregivers, who must be at least 18, could legally grow indoors up to four marijuana plants of up to 4 feet in height.

House lawmakers voted 133-14 to approve an amendment to the bill that would prohibit anyone convicted of possession or sale of marijuana from being accepted as a caregiver under the legislation.

The legislation would allow marijuana to be prescribed for treatment of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson?s disease, multiple sclerosis, and damage to the "nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spacsticity." Prescriptions for marijuana could also be written for epilepsy, cachexia or wasting syndrome, under the bill.

However, critics said the legislature shouldn?t attempt to override federal laws on the sale and use of marijuana.

"We?re offering a remedy that is illegal under federal law," said state Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford.

State House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he knew where patients with marijuana prescriptions would have to get their marijuana. "You?ve got to hit the streets, folks. A nickel bag, a dime bag, you got to make a drug deal baby," Cafero said.

State Rep. Alfred Adinolfi, R-Cheshire described a family member who rejected medical treatment for his cancer in favor of using marijuana and died at age 60. "It was just his way of committing suicide to get away from the medical process," Adinolfi said.


Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at ghladky@nhregister.com or at (860) 524-0719

 



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