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House OKs Marijuana Use By Chronically Ill


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Hartford – The state House of Representatives approved a bill Wednesday to allow the possession and use of marijuana by chronically and terminally ill people, over the objections of lawmakers who warned that the proposal would lead to rampant drug abuse and place users in violation of federal law.

The House voted to approve the bill, 89-58, after more than six hours of frequently passionate debate, including the outsized efforts of Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who called eight amendments and spoke for nearly three hours in an effort to derail the proposal.

In the end, a bipartisan group of legislators won the day, led by Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, who has lobbied her colleagues in favor of the bill for several years, after she helped treat symptoms of her husband's terminal cancer with the drug.

"We are not here today to decide if marijuana can be a legal prescribed medication," Bacchiochi said. "Only the federal government can do that."

Connecticut's proposal, Bacchiochi said, would have greater protections against abuse and restrictions on pot possession than those in the 12 other states that have decriminalized marijuana for medicinal use.

The House bill would permit patients suffering from certain illnesses – including HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, cachexia and wasting syndrome – to possess up to four cannabis plants, each up to 4 feet tall, and up to 1 ounce of harvested marijuana.

The marijuana could also be legally possessed by a primary caregiver over the age of 18 who helps the patient with his or her ingestion of the drug. One Republican amendment passed, with a sizable bipartisan majority, to prohibit anyone previously convicted of possession or sale of marijuana for serving as such a caregiver to a chronically or terminally ill patient.

"All this is, is a safe harbor under state law, and it's nothing more," said Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, the co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Lawlor noted that Connecticut law actually permits doctors to prescribe marijuana already, but none have done so for fear of prosecution and because the drugs are not part of federally decreed formularies and thus not available at pharmacies.

Opponents said they too wanted to ease the suffering of those experiencing persistent pain, nausea and other symptoms, but questioned the health benefits and wisdom of doing so by legalizing a usually recreational drug.

"There is probably nothing we would not do to help them," Cafero said. "That is real pain, real suffering. In many cases, that is your blood. That's what is making this such a difficult bill."

But Cafero and other opponents said they couldn't abide by a bill that is in seeming contravention to federal drug laws, which, while permitting individuals to cultivate marijuana on their own, also seemingly offers no easy solution to the question of where to get seeds for plants that remain illegal.

"You gotta make a deal, baby!" Cafero exclaimed at one point. "That's the way you get it."

"It's not Jethro Tull after Thursday psych class anymore," Cafero he said, minutes later. "It's an 11- or 10-year-old doing it ... in the morning before middle school."

Others said the bill would put its intended beneficiaries, or their caregivers, at risk, if they tried to purchase marijuana for palliative uses, which would violate federal policy even if they had acquired paperwork from the state decriminalizing its use.

Having taken an oath to uphold state and federal laws, said Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, "here today I find myself talking about how we're going to go out and authorize our constituents to break the law. I don't understand how we can do something like that."

Rep. Jack Malone, D-Norwich, who is an executive at the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said he considers smoking marijuana to be a typical "first venture" into deeper addiction but nonetheless voted for the bill.

The bill now proceeds to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. A spokesman for the Senate's Democratic majority, Patrick Scully, said its support was uncertain since the bill had not yet been debated by the caucus.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell hasn't taken a stance on the law. In an unannounced visit to the Capitol press room, Rell said she would prefer that the bill be expressly limited to those with terminal illnesses, but said she had yet to make up her mind.

"I really have not taken a position on this bill," Rell said. "And I have to say I have the same mixed feelings I had before."

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: TheDay.com (CT)
Author: Ted Mann
Contact: t.mann@theday.com
Copyright: 2007 The Day Publishing Co.
Website: TheDay.com - House OKs Marijuana Use By Chronically Ill
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