Advocates: Medical Marijuana Bill Avoids Pitfalls of Other States
(Updated 2:47 p.m.) Marijuana reform advocates and a group of patients called Wednesday for support of this year’s medical marijuana bill, saying it will serve as a model for other states and avoid the wrath of the federal government.
National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws Connecticut Director Erik Williams said the bill benefits from the mistakes other states have made as they’ve legalized the use of cannabis for patients with debilitating diseases.
“We are fully in support of this bill, we think it’s fantastically written and will be the single best medical marijuana law in the country on the books now or being considered,” he said at a Capitol press conference.
The bill, which will have a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday, requires marijuana to be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. The bill keeps the system within state borders and large chain pharmacies that operate in multiple states are unlikely to get into the business.
That means marijuana dispensing will likely be left to the small, independent pharmacies. Williams said federal memos indicate the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency thinks smaller is better when it comes to dispensaries.
The federal government has recently cracked down on dispensaries in California. However, Williams said that the government has yet to raid a facility that was actually complying with the law and Connecticut’s bill looks nothing like the law passed in that state.
“What we have here is a far cry from California. It’s an industry that has very, very little oversight or regulation and that is not what we want to have in the state of Connecticut,” he said. “We’ve learned what not to do and that’s generally California.”
Williams was joined by patients who use cannabis to treat their conditions, Lindsey Beck, who has Crohn’s disease, said marijuana has allowed her to dramatically reduce the number of medications she has to take each day. Many of those medications made her sick, she said.
“I lost my mobility entirely. I was in a wheelchair, I was bedridden, my hair was falling out, I had bed sores. And it wasn’t from my disease it was from the medication I was prescribed,” she said.
Beck said she is now down to taking only four medications. Dr. Alan Shackelford said it is common for patients using medicinal marijuana to reduce the number of other meds they require. Though the cannabis is not covered by health insurance, patients often end up spending less because they don’t pay co-pays for other drugs, he said.
When Beck later testified before the committee, she said the legislature failed to listen to the public last year when it failed pass the bill, which the public overwhelmingly supported. She said lawmakers should start acting like adults and put the issue behind them.
“The lack of common sense displayed here has overwhelmed me,” she said.
The bill also faced opposition during its public hearing. Sen. Toni Boucher’s testimony against it took up the entire first hour of the hearing dedicated to public officials.
Boucher has been a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana because she believes it will do more harm than good. She said that even bringing the bill up for debate sends a very mixed message about what this legislature should be dealing with.
“It is disappointing that in this year’s session, filled with hope for education reform, we should be considering a bill that would send such a negative message to our families and children, the very ones education reform is meant to assist,” she said.
Smoked substances like marijuana are damaging to the lungs, hearts, and the brain, she said. Boucher departed from her opposition to legalizing any type of marijuana and said she would support the bill if it were limited to terminally ill patients.
“If it was restricted to just those cases I would actually be here to support this initiative,” she said. “Because we’re not concerned about putting deadly smoke in the lungs of someone who has no prospect of recovering.”
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D- New Haven, asked how Boucher could be supportive of allowing terminal patients to use marijuana but still want it to be categorized as a highly dangerous drug. Boucher said the state could make a compelling case to the federal government to allow it in those cases.
The substance’s federal classification had Rep. Al Adinolfi, R- Cheshire, worried Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and supportive lawmakers would be arrested if the bill were signed into law.
“We are violating federal law if this passes. Now, if the federal law decides to go after people that are doing this and we implement it, who would they arrest? The governor that signed the bill? Or would they arrest all the representatives that voted for it?” he asked
After Boucher answered with information about current litigation in other states, he clarified his legal concerns.
“I’m not concerned about the people who use it, I’m concerned about the people in this room, the legislators,” he said.
However, the bill might have the support of one legislator who didn’t’ support it last year.
Sen. John Kissel, R- Enfield, said that the provision of the bill that requires the substance be dispensed by a pharmacist makes him more comfortable with it. He pointed out that he Boucher were on the same page in their opposition to decriminalizing marijuana but said that’s not necessarily the case for medical use.
“For some reason, even though this is a short session, I think this is the year,” he said.
The legislature passed a less restrictive bill legalizing medical marijuana in 2007 but the measure was vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. A similar bill was passed out of several committees last year, but was never raised on the floor of the Senate.