Conn. lawmakers resurrect bill to allow medical use of marijuana

March 21, 2007

Susan Haigh, Associated Press

A move to legalize marijuana for people suffering from certain medical problems cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday, giving hope to those who've been pushing for the bill for several years.

The Judiciary Committee voted 31-8 in favor of the legislation.

This year's version would allow residents, 18-years-old and older, with a debilitating medical condition diagnosed by a physician, to cultivate and use marijuana to relieve the symptoms of their disease.

Patients with written certification from their physician to use the illegal drug must register with the Department of Consumer Protection.

Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, the committee's co-chairman, said the bill is an attempt to be compassionate to people suffering from illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, but to respect Connecticut's drug laws.

"On balance, I think this bill takes into account the concerns of everybody," he said. The legislation needs approval from at least one more committee before it moves to the full legislature.

Wednesday's action comes as television talk show host Montel Williams is expected to appear at the state Capitol Friday to back the bill. Williams uses marijuana to treat the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis.

A Better Way Foundation, a Connecticut-based organization lobbying for changes in drug policy, is organizing Williams' appearance.

Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, opposed the bill on Wednesday. He said the federal government has classified marijuana as a drug with no therapeutic benefit. But O'Neill expressed frustration that authorities have agreed not to prosecute people living in the 11 states where medical marijuana is legal.

"I feel somewhat put upon as a legislator in the state of Connecticut to have to sort of stand up for a system that the federal government itself seems reluctant to stand up for," O'Neill said.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said it will ultimately be up to the medical community to decide whether to recommend marijuana to patients.

"Why not try this," he asked. "If any one of us was in that situation, it would be very difficult to search our souls and say no."

In the bill, qualifying patients would be limited to growing no more than four marijuana plants, each having a maximum height of four feet. The plants must be grown in a secure, indoor facility.

The debilitating medical conditions covered by the bill include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, cachexia or wasting syndrome.

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