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House Forwards Medical Marijuana To Senate

by | Apr 25, 2012 11:11pm
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Posted to: Legal

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Rep. Penny Bacchiochi

After debating for more than six hours, the House passed a bill legalizing the medical use of marijuana Wednesday night in a 96-51 vote, sending the bill to the Senate for approval.

The legislation would allow licensed pharmacists to dispense marijuana to patients with certain debilitating illnesses like glaucoma, cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, or post traumatic stress disorder. In order to be eligible, patients would have to get a recommendation from a doctor.

Another medical marijuana bill passed both chambers of the legislature in 2007, but was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

In past years, medical marijuana supporter Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, has spoken of her late husband, who died of bone cancer. After trying the available medications, he found relief with marijuana.

This year, Bacchiochi focused on moving stories she heard during the bill’s public hearing, like a former lobbyist, stricken with Parkinson’s disease, who told the committee that cannabis allows him to feel a sense of normalcy.

But she said it was the testimony of young woman that she will never forget despite hearing thousands of stories for the past 10 years. Stricken with several illnesses, the woman was prescribed a Fentanyl patch, which is a medication more potent than heroin.

“This young woman was bedridden. She lost her hair. She drooled. She could not eat. She could not function,” Bacchiochi said. “She realized that the prescription medication she was taking was killing her. She detoxed off the legal medication she was taking and started using medical marijuana.”

After switching to the illegal substance, the woman gained her life back, Bacchiochi said. So much so, that her young son cried at the thought of his mother going back to the prescription meds, she said.

Bacchiochi said she understood the legal concerns of those opposed to the bill, but said it was important to consider the good it would do.

“Some of you will vote with your head. I respect it, I get it. In some ways I’m envious. Some of us vote with our heart. That’s no easier, believe me,” she said, adding she knew a vote against the bill didn’t indicate a lack of compassion. “. . . I’m just saying to you, Mr. Speaker and to the chamber, I will be voting with my heart.”

Opponents voiced concerns that the bill puts the state in direct conflict with federal law. The federal government considers marijuana to be a Schedule I controlled substance, with the most stringent regulations, but the bill requires the Consumer Protection commissioner to reclassify the substance as Schedule II.

Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, pointed to a letter from Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein saying the bill creates a “licensing scheme” that authorizes conduct contrary to federal law. The letter is similar to other indications from the federal government, he said.

“Any reasonable readings of these letters say . . . if you pass this law, we will be able to prosecute you,” O’Neill said.

When other states have received similar indications from the federal government, they stopped the process of legalizing medical marijuana, O’Neill said.

Because the bill requires marijuana producers to pay a $25,000 license application fee, O’Neill said it was unlikely they would be growing small amounts of the substance. Rather, they would probably be growing it in industrial quantities, which may attract the federal government’s attention, he said.

Rep. Gerald Fox, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said other states have felt comfortable passing medical marijuana laws after receiving similar letters from U.S. Attorneys.

“The U.S. Attorney has not relinquished any of their powers. That’s what the letter says,” Fox said. “But letter also says on the first page that pursuing these individuals is not their first priority given their limited resources.”

However, Rep. Brian Becker, D-West Hartford, said the state should ask Congress to address the issue, not pass legislation to legalize it. It was within the state’s power to decriminalize marijuana, but not allow its use.

“Even if we passed this bill today our citizens will still be subject to arrest by federal agents and there’s nothing we can do to prevent that,” he said.

Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, said passing a bill that does away with all of Connecticut’s marijuana restrictions would be more legal than passing legislation expressly allowing it for some people.

House Minority Leader Larry Cafero said his biggest concern was the potential abuse of the system, specifically by minors. Cafero, a school expulsion officer in Norwalk, said the number of cases he has seen involving youth using marijuana “have gone through the roof” since the legislature passed a bill decriminalizing small amounts last year.

“The actions we take in this chamber have a very real effect, sometimes good sometimes bad, on the world out there,” Cafero said. “Now we’re going to open up a whole other area of using marijuana, one that hasn’t been proven.”

Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said people shouldn’t interpret votes in support of the bill as an indication that young people should think it’s acceptable to smoke marijuana. If a teenager wants to form an opinion on the substance, they can already look to states like California that have allowed it under a less restrictive program, he said.

Sampson said the bill goes a long way toward “truly treating marijuana as a medicine.” He said he opposed last year’s bill because it was too loosely written, but this year the bill allows doctors to decide whether to prescribe it and requires pharmacists to dispense it

“Outside of that I don’t think I can control the perception of anyone else,” he said.

Bacchiochi agreed, saying for every study that exists suggesting marijuana is a gateway drug, another finds that it is isn’t.

“This is not the gateway drug. This is not what is going to send children down the path to drug destruction,” she said.

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Comments

(8) Archived Comments

posted by: cedarhillresident | April 26, 2012  11:26am

My personal feeling is that as each state signs on (which they are) a more clearer message to the capital is being sent. Year after year we wait for the federal government to stop listening to big money on this, and to start putting the well being of the people that elect them, before big money. And what do we get?....we get next year, we get millions of dollars in studies. We get no results. The states are taking it into their own hands because our leaders have dropped the ball or are just not listening (to us). ( not after a year of talk but after decades of talk!)  And how will the feds be able to not change it if every state allows it?!! They will no long be able to do the double talk.  It is… by the people for the people and somehow our elected officials have all but forgotten this.  Yes we hear “but my constituents” which is contrary to all polls done in the state and nationally.  It is no different than any other issue at the Hill. They are slow to move. A shell game. As many states have already done this and or are doing it this year,  our leader here in Hartford have taken a stand along with the rest of the country!!  When the government does not listen, it is the job of our leaders there patriotic duty to stand up for WE THE PEOPLE! And last night we witnessed these great people in our state! I want to thank all of you for caring and doing what should have been done a long time ago. I want to thank you for being the real leaders of our country!

and Penny BRAVO! And Fox you rock!

posted by: lkulmann | April 26, 2012  1:26pm

This story fascinates me. There are some words being used interchangeably in these discussions that are very different in meaning. I didn’t realize that marijuana use in small amounts is not considered a crime. So, if you get caught
with pot you get a ticket like a parking
ticket. Now THAT I’m familiar with! Now
it is still a federal crime. So, if I’m a
Doctor or a Pharmacist why would I
prescribe (write a prescription) or
dispense ‘weed’ and risk my license commiting a federal crime with no State protection? A doctor can recommend
using medical marijuana if nothing FDA approved works. But is it a verbal or written recommendation? Does the client go to the pharmacy and say ‘yea, uh, my doctor recommended me to smoke cannabis. Can I get some?’ Point is…recommending and prescribing are two totally different things. If its not considered a crime in CT to have it in small amounts and a doctor can recommend it verbally, what more is there?? Go smoke pot in the privacy of your own home. Fill a planter with dirt and grow some plants. I really don’t think the ‘federal pot police’ are going to come and take you away. If you get a ticket, pay it.

posted by: OutOfOutrage | April 26, 2012  4:22pm

OutOfOutrage

Is there some reason this cannot be made into a pill and controlled like every other prescription drug?

posted by: gutbomb86 | April 26, 2012  4:31pm

gutbomb86

@matt w - totally agree. The key factor being ignored here is that we’re basically adding a whole new population of lung disease patients to the health care system. Legalize the active ingredient, if need be, but adding more smokers to the long line of people with cancer and emphysema is shortsighted and pound-foolish. Pharmacists will be prescribing a painkiller that causes lung disease. Great.

If you have a moment, listen to Kathleen Turner in this podcast interview and tell me more smoking is going to help.

posted by: cedarhillresident | April 26, 2012  4:52pm

@Matt W.

because the cost that is associated with turning into pill form is crazy. And the pill form does not allow it to be an as needed medication. Pill form puts it right back into the greedy Pharma companys that have been fighting this. All about the money not the well being of people to them.

posted by: lkulmann | April 26, 2012  5:39pm

Medical marijuana is called Marinol in its pill form and doctors do prescribe it. I think this is about people who have chronic and terminal illness that prefer to smoke it and bake it and one person said she vaporizes it? Maybe like a neb? I don’t know what people want. I just don’t get what is missing here. CT is practically giving it the green light. Are people wanting it rolled, filtered, boxed and labeled like a prescription pack of cigarettes and covered by insurance?? Its an issue I’m trying to understand, but I officially give up.

posted by: SocialButterfly | April 26, 2012  9:21pm

Optometrists want this bill to pass for treatment of glaucoma.

posted by: frettbird | May 3, 2012  3:42pm

We are finally growing up, apparently.  Marinol…yes…side effects include (name anything).  It doesn’t work.  Pot doesn’t have to be smoked or vaporized.  It can be eaten in a brownie.  From what I hear.  Side effects include being able to eat a turkey sandwich on dry bread after the morning radiation.  From what I hear.  Oh, I have cancer and I went through 45 days of radiation in January and February and since it was not legal here in the most closeted conservative State in the Northeast, I didn’t get to hold down that turkey sandwich.  It’s OK, the chemo made me gain 15 pounds.  Sure wish…well, now maybe someone can sell me a joint.  Gateway drug….I’ll tell ya what it is a gateway drug to…back from the edge of harder drugs, like cocaine, which is schedule II, while pot is schedule I.  I wonder why cocaine is better for a person than pot according to Federal law?  Yeah…they know what they are doing, if we just follow like sheep and pretend to care that kids use pot more than they use booze, which I can buy at 9 am on every street corner in this State, we’ll all be fine.  Side effects include a lack of thought. But booze doesn’t make a person keep down that turkey sandwich on dry bread after morning radiation.  It doesn’t.  Who knew?