Legislators fall on two sides of the medical marijuana fence

June 28, 2007

Jordan Fenster, Fairfield Minuteman (CT)

Last week, Gov. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill that would have legalized the use of marijuana for some medical purposes. The bill, which passed both houses of the state legislature, was particularly decisive in Fairfield, where local legislators came down strongly on both sides of the issue. "People have very deeply felt beliefs about this issue, and I respect that," said Assemblyman Thomas Drew during an interview following the veto.

For Drew, who spoke vociferously in favor of the bill, the issue was about patients' pain management.

"I have had several experiences where I was persuaded that the medical use of marijuana has unique attributes in reducing suffering," he said.

On the other side of the fence sat Sen. John McKinney, who spoke on the floor of the senate against the measure.

McKinney said that while he "understands" the "compassion" supporters of the bill have for suffering patients, the measure had some "fundamental flaws."

McKinney said the state, by passing such a law, would be "encouraging and promoting people to break the law."

"There are no legal ways of obtaining the plants or the seeds," he said.

The American Medical Association's (AMA) Web site lists both the medical benefits of marijuana and some of the harmful effects, based on findings generated from a 2001 study.

According to the AMA, marijuana has proven effective to some degree in alleviating some conditions related to HIV/AIDS infection, cancer, spinal chord injury, chronic pain and insomnia, though it does not go so far as to recommend its use.

"The AMA calls for further adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana ... in patients who have serious conditions for which preclinical, anecdotal, or controlled evidence suggests possible efficacy," the Web site says.

McKinney said that "part of the problem" is that some supporters of the measure have "a more relaxed view toward marijuana" than they might toward other intoxicants, such as cocaine or heroin.

"That's concerning to me," McKinney said. "We know of the addictiveness of marijuana. I know there are alternatives."

Drew, on the other hand, sees marijuana as in a different grouping than so-called "hard drugs."

"While I believe narcotics are just horrifically destructive to our civilization, I, frankly, do not put marijuana in that category," he said. "A lot of people associate marijuana with those more severe narcotics. I'd like to break that association."

While McKinney said a bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana would, by its nature, encourage illegal activity, Drew sees it otherwise.

A sufferer or their caregiver, McKinney said, "has to go out and engage in some kind of drug deal."

Drew, said the opposite would be true.

"The actual consequence of the law would be fewer people going downtown to go and buy drugs," he said.

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