Rell Delivers Veto On Bill To Allow For Medical Marijuana

June 19, 2007

Ted Mann, The Day (CT)

Cancer survivor Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she is sympathetic to those who want to give those suffering from the disease and the side effects of its invasive treatments the right to smoke marijuana to ease their pain, nausea and weakness.

But Rell blocked that effort Tuesday when she vetoed a bill allowing the “palliative use” of marijuana, saying her compassion for victims of cancer and other chronic and terminal conditions did not trump her reservations over a bill that would have put those patients in violation of federal drug laws.

“I am not unfamiliar with the incredible pain and heartbreak associated with battling cancer, and I have struggled with the decision about signing or vetoing this bill,” Rell said in her veto message. “I completely sympathize with the well-intentioned goal of alleviating pain and suffering, but legal alternatives are available, the bill forces law-abiding citizens to seek out drug dealers to make a purchase, and there is no provision for monitoring use or proof of its effectiveness.”

Rell's veto ends a period of uncertainty for advocates of the bill, which would have permitted those suffering from several chronic illnesses to grow up to four marijuana plants in their homes, and to consume the drug by either smoking or eating it, which many say helps ease pain, tremors and other physiological afflictions in ways that other prescription medications don't, and with less debilitating side effects.

The governor had not taken a public position on the bill since its final passage by the Senate on June 1, and every intervening day had increased concern among its proponents that Rell would strike it down.

Those advocates, including Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, had said the bill provided a measured approach — banning patients given access to the drug from using it near others, limiting its possession to within private living quarters. The bill would have restricted use to those suffering from a discrete set of ailments — including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, certain spinal injuries and epilepsy — and would have prohibited the prosecution of doctors and caregivers who prescribe or help administer the drug.

“We're not talking about legalizing it, we're simply talking about, in the state of Connecticut, not prosecuting people who use marijuana in this type of framework,” Bacchiochi said in a recent interview.

In the same interview, Bacchiochi, who began lobbying fellow lawmakers on the issue after using marijuana to alleviate her husband's discomfort as he died of cancer, had said a veto from the governor would indefinitely doom the proposal, at least for the duration of Rell's tenure as governor.

Other advocates included television host Montel Williams, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who tearfully and angrily urged lawmakers to pass the bill earlier this spring, saying it was a far less insidious intoxicant than many of the drugs he'd been prescribed for his illness, and the only one that had seemed capable of alleviating all his symptoms at once.

But the medical arguments didn't sway Rell. In her veto message, the governor noted the opposition of several groups, including the American Medical Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the American Cancer Society, to the use of smoked marijuana as medicine, and suggested that the bill should have at least been limited to those suffering terminal illnesses.

And after weeks of cagily avoiding taking a final position, Rell came down on the side of law enforcement, refusing to bring Connecticut statutes into conflict with federal drug policy.

“Once a patient receives a written certification for the use of marijuana, where does the patient go?” the governor said. “There are no pharmacies, storefronts or mail-order catalogs where patients can legally purchase marijuana plants or seeds. I am troubled by the fact that, in essence, this bill forces law-abiding citizens to seek out drug dealers to make their marijuana purchases.”

Opponents of the bill hailed Rell's veto, including Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who had vigorously lobbied colleagues to vote against the measure.

“Governor Rell has always placed consideration for the public she serves above all other interests,” Boucher said in a written statement. “She has demonstrated this again today by this action. She is a hero to me and to so many others today.”



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