Montel Williams makes emotional plea for Conn. medical marijuana bill
March 22, 2007
Susan Haigh, Associated Press
Syndicated television talk show host Montel Williams choked back tears Friday as he urged Connecticut lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes.
Williams, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, said he uses marijuana in various forms to help alleviate intense pain and debilitating symptoms.
"I have to pray that the local law enforcement gives me a right of passage back to my state. Because when I walk out of here, I will smoke pot," said the New York resident.
"I have to stay ahead of the pain," he said.
Lawmakers are again considering a bill that legalizes marijuana use for people suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions diagnosed by a doctor. This year's version would allow residents at least 18 years old to cultivate up to four plants in a secure, indoor facility.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 11 states allow patients to use marijuana despite federal laws against it. A 12th state, Maryland, protects patients from jail but not arrest.
Connecticut already has a medical marijuana law, one of the first in the nation. Under the 1981 law, a doctor can prescribe the illegal drug to relieve nausea associated with chemotherapy and eye pressure from glaucoma.
But the law is unworkable because, under federal law, a physician who prescribes marijuana can be sent to prison and risks having his or her medical license revoked.
Proponents said they're hopeful the bill will pass this year. It has already cleared one legislative committee.
"I feel legislators are finally at the place where they want to act compassionately with this law," said Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, who said she risked arrest more than 20 years ago to get marijuana for her husband, who eventually died of bone cancer.
Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, D-Hartford, said she has become a convert on the issue after two of her cousins recently died of cancer. She said both suffered extreme pain.
"It took a life-changing experience to realize," Kirkley-Bey said. "I was being small-minded on this issue."
But some at the Capitol said Friday the bill sends the wrong message about drug use, especially to young people.
"These people come here to this legislature talking about pain. You don't know what pain is until you've lost a son," said Steven Steiner of New York, founder of Americans for a Drug Free Youth, whose 19-year-old son died from prescription drug overdose. Steiner said his son had begun using marijuana when he was 13.
Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, held a news conference earlier in the morning to counter Williams' appearance at the Capitol. While she contends marijuana may alleviate the symptoms of some medical conditions for some patients, Boucher said she believes legalizing marijuana for medical purposes will ultimately lead to full legalization of the drug.
Boucher also questioned why the state would condone smoking of the drug, which she claimed poses an additional health risk to patients.
"It makes no sense, no matter how many celebrities we have in this building," said Boucher, who only supports the medical use of marijuana for terminally ill people. She said others can use marijuana in a pill or spray.
Rep. Lawrence Miller, R-Stratford, said he decided against "smoking some kind of a weed" after being diagnosed eight years ago with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cell. Miller said, through trial and error, he found the right drugs to stave off the symptoms.
"Medical marijuana, it's still marijuana _ put any name in front of it that you want," Miller said. "I think we should just stick with the doctors."
Williams ticked off a laundry list of powerful prescription drugs he takes daily. He said it's the marijuana that works the best. He mixes the plant into cookies, smokes it in the evenings before he sleeps, and drinks a liquid form during the day.
"I don't get the buzz, I don't get the high," Williams said. "Right now, all it does for me is stop the pain."