Medical pot advocates predict Connecticut legalization win

March 01, 2004

Ken Dixon, Connecticut Post

Supporters of legalized marijuana for medical purposes predicted Monday that legislation will advance this year, possibly succeeding in both the House and Senate and landing on Gov. John G. Rowland's desk.

Last year the controversial legislation won approval in the powerful Judiciary Committee, but fell 15 votes short in the House of Representatives.

But more doctors seem to be supportive of the measure this year, combined with a widening range of lawmakers who believe that the smoked form of the drug has more therapeutic benefits than legally prescribed chemical compounds.

'For me, this bill isn't an attempt to legalize marijuana,' Rep. James W. Abrams, D-Meriden.

'It's about keeping people out of jail.'

Over the previous three years, Abrams has seen his effort fail without a hearing; gaining a public hearing without a committee vote; then narrowly winning approval in the Judiciary Committee last year before failing after an emotional vote in the House.

Under the current bill, doctors would be held harmless on the issuance of certificates to gravely ill patients, who could grow as many as five marijuana plants for personal use.

'Despite what many people think, marijuana works and has many medical benefits,' Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, said recalling that 22 years ago, illegal, smoked marijuana helped her now-deceased first husband in his battle against bone cancer.

'It is to remove the threat of prosecution for people who use it for medical reasons,' Bacchiochi said.

Dr. David Simon of Mansfield, a board-certified anesthesiologist, said it's a fallacy that a 1981 state law allows physicians to prescribe marijuana. The Department of Consumer Protection, he said, routinely rejects those requests.

Simon said that there are about 23 varying chemicals in smoked marijuana, compared to the simply compounded Marinol pills, which cost up to $5,000 a year.

'The fact is smoking marijuana works better than Marinol,' Simon said. 'It's prohibitively expensive compared to growing marijuana at home.'

He said that among the obstacles facing the smoked form of the drug, is its lack of a patent or profits to be made. Many prescription drugs are so expensive because their development takes a lot of money.

During a public hearing Monday before the Judiciary Committee, a petition signed by about 300 state doctors was presented.

Neal Levine, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, said in a statement that nationwide, supporters were surprised to see how successful proposals were in various state capitals.

'We were told by statehouse insiders that the medical marijuana bill wouldn't even pass one committee, but we got such a groundswell of support that the bill made it to the House floor and nearly passed.

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