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Bill Would Allow Judge To Consider Illness Defense


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Under a bill introduced Monday in a Senate committee, the El Dorado resident's situation could have been different.

The proposed bill would allow judges to consider medical conditions as a defense against prosecution of marijuana possession. Under the measure, those with a debilitating illness arrested for the drug's possession could present in court a doctor's written certification that the drug would offer therapeutic benefits.

"I feel like my doctor should make that decision, not the sheriff," Hughes said.

The mere introduction of the bill, usually a formality, was decried by one Topeka legislator.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, opposed the bill's entry, saying, "It costs a lot of money to introduce a bill."

Schmidt, a pharmacist, said it is difficult to ensure the same amount of marijuana is distributed to each patient. She added that the bill violates federal law.

The bill doesn't legalize or decriminalize the drug but rather allows people to make a defense of their crime based on a debilitating illness. The judge could still allow charges to be filed, throw out the charges or otherwise alter the complaint.

"This is simply an issue of compassion," said Laura Green, director of the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition that helped draft the measure. "No one wants to arrest people who are sick."

The bill would define a debilitating illness as any number of conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease.

Hughes was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 27. Twelve years ago, she began using marijuana to ease the painful symptoms.

She would often go out to the garage and sit in her car to smoke so as not to be around her kids. She must have left some in the car because when she later got in a wreck, officers found a small amount.

"It was totally humiliating," she said. "I had a well-paying job and respect from others, and that was lost."

She said her co-workers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture office in town treated her "like a big criminal." She told the judge about how the drug helps alleviate much of the pain associated with her illness. Under the law, the judge wasn't allowed to take that into consideration.

Hughes said she hasn't used marijuana since her arrest, but she still wishes she had the option. Pain shoots through her legs and back every day.

"I stagger around like I'm drunk," she said.

An identical bill in 1995 passed the Kansas House 89-32 but was stripped in a later version and never became law.

Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, was skeptical of the current proposal.

"To say that it's a defense based on a doctor's letter, I don't think that's going to fly," he said.

Hughes said she expected to testify on behalf of the bill when it receives a hearing in a few weeks.

Sporce: Topeka Capital-Journal (KS)
Copyright: 2008 Topeka Capital-Journal
Contact: letters@cjonline.com
Website: CJOnline
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