HARTFORD, Conn. - A state lawmaker on Thursday announced for the third time in as many years a plan to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Legislation introduced by Rep. James W. Abrams, D-Meriden, would allow doctors to give patients certificates authorizing the use of marijuana to relieve pain and other symptoms.

Connecticut passed one of the nation's first medical marijuana laws in 1981, allowing doctors to prescribe the drug. Doctors, fearing prosecution, have refused to prescribe the drug because federal law banning the drug overrides state law.

The legislation sponsored by Abrams and three other state representatives would shift the responsibility from doctors to patients, Abrams said at a Capitol news conference. A certificate would give patients a defense against state prosecution, but not federal action.

A patient or caregiver also would be allowed to grow marijuana for medical use.

"We're not talking about collectives," Abrams said.

One problem still to be worked out is how patients would obtain marijuana seeds, which may not legally be sold despite their availability on Internet sites.

"That's something we'd have to deal with," Abrams said.

Gov. John G. Rowland does not support the legislation.

"He believes the pharmaceutical industry provides legal alternatives," spokesman Chris Cooper said.

Speakers at the news conference said marijuana is more effective than prescribed drugs in relieving pain and has fewer side effects.

Mark Braunstein, who injured his spinal cord in a diving accident in 1990, said he relies on marijuana to ease occasional spasms.

Braunstein, an art librarian at Connecticut College, said the side effects are euphoria, "which I can handle," and paranoia at the prospect of prosecution.

Lobbyists for doctors in Connecticut also may not back the legislation. Jim Battaglio, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Medical Society, said the state group follows the American Medical Association on the issue.

The AMA has called for more studies of marijuana for patients and recommends that authorities continue to classify marijuana as a controlled substance pending the outcome of studies.

The national doctors' group also called on the National Institutes of Health to research the medical utility of marijuana and develop a smoke-free, inhaled delivery system.

Kevin Zeese, a lawyer and authority on medical marijuana, appeared at the news conference to speak on behalf of Abrams's bill.

"Marijuana will be used as medicine regardless of what the federal government does," he said. Abrams's bill is "going under the radar of what the feds see."

Federal law enforcement officials said Thursday they cannot recall prosecution for marijuana used for medical purposes in Connecticut.

Abrams said an effort to get around the federal ban was first introduced two years ago, but got nowhere. Last year, it won a public hearing.

The measure will be considered by the General Assembly's judiciary and public health committees.

Pubdate: Thu, 06 Feb 2003
Source: Stamford Advocate, The (CT)
Copyright: 2003 Southern Connecticut Newspaper, Inc.
Contact: letters.advocate@scni.com
Website: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/