Conn. judiciary panel OKs medical marijuana

March 21, 2007

Ken Dixon, Connecticut Post

Connecticut would become the 13th state to let gravely ill people use marijuana, under legislation overwhelmingly approved Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee after a brief debate.

Proponents of the legislation said there is a good chance that the bill can be approved in the House and Senate and sent to Gov. M. Jodi Rell this year.

In about 20 minutes, the committee voted 31-8 to send the bill to the floor of the House.

"I think this bill strikes a balance," Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the committee, said. "If you have a physician who is prepared to authorize your use of marijuana for the relief of symptoms associated with the diseases in the bill and if you're prepared to register that fact with the Department of Consumer Protection, then you may, under very, very limited circumstances, use marijuana for the treatment of those symptoms."

Patients may also list one person as a caregiver to assist in the possession and treatment of the debilitating ailments including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries, epilepsy and other medical problems.

Betty Gallo, a drug policy lobbyist who has advocated the legislation in recent years, said the lopsided committee vote is a good sign.

"I think that what has happened is there has been a lot more testimony about it and people are becoming a lot more comfortable with the whole issue," she said in an interview. "New Mexico passed similar legislation last week and the governor said he'll sign it, so we're up to 12 states now."

Gallo said the committee seemed convinced that use of marijuana would be contingent on a doctor's recommendation.

Lawlor said that on the law-enforcement issues, local and federal authorities seem to be leaving medical marijuana users alone.

The bill limits patients to less than an ounce of marijuana, or three plants of a certain maturity level and limited height.

"It doesn't say that the feds can't, if they choose to, prosecute you for those identical offenses if it is also against the federal law to do this," Lawlor said. "But it's worth noting that in the 11 other states that permit this, the federal authorities choose not to enforce this law and that's that."

The Connecticut proposal is not at all similar to the California statute that has resulted in the formation of so-called buyers' clubs of marijuana, which have been targets for federal prosecution.

In public hearings this year and in recent years when similar legislation has failed, sick and injured people have testified in the Capitol that smoking marijuana helps them in ways that prescription drugs, including opiates, do not.

Rep. Arthur J. O'Neill, R-Southbury, ranking member of the committee, opposed the legislation because there is no form of marijuana that can be obtained without violating state or federal law. He also doubted the actual medical value.

"I wish the federal government would make up its mind," O'Neill said.

"We're trying to tell people don't smoke marijuana recreationally, but it's OK to smoke it over here medicinally," he said. "We're creating what seems to me a fairly hypocritical-looking kind of approach to dealing with this particular subject."



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