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Medical Marijuana Bill Wins OK

Stamford (CT) Advocate, June 2, 2007

by Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer

HARTFORD - The state Senate, in a 23-13 bipartisan vote, last night approved a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana to relieve the suffering of patients with debilitating conditions such as cancer or AIDS.

The legislation, approved May 23 by the House, 89-58, heads to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell for her signature.

If the legislation becomes law, Connecticut will become the 13th state to allow the palliative use of marijuana despite the federal prohibition against it.

"She'll read it thoroughly and think it over," Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot said.

A 2004 University of Connecticut poll showed 83 percent of respondents backed allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana in such cases.

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, introduced the legislation on the Senate floor. But the four other senators from southwestern Connecticut - Bob Duff, D-Norwalk; Judith Freedman, R-Westport; John McKinney, R-Fairfield; and William Nickerson, R-Greenwich - opposed the bill.

The legislation passed last night would allow a doctor to certify an adult patient's use of marijuana after determining he or she has a debilitating condition and could potentially benefit from marijuana. Patients and their primary caregivers would then register with the state Department of Consumer Protection.

The patient and the primary caregiver would be limited to growing no more than four plants, each having a maximum height of 4 feet, in an indoor secure facility.

"It's rare we have an opportunity to pass legislation that will have an extraordinary effect on the well-being of those who are the sickest amongst us," McDonald said in introducing the bill.

But Nickerson said it was not wise for state legislators to make decisions best left to the Federal Drug Administration.

"They are legally authorized, medically equipped and have decades of experience," Nickerson said.

McKinney said although it is a "proven medical fact" marijuana use can prove damaging, its medical benefits are less conclusive.

He also was concerned that the plants grown for medical purposes would not be destroyed afterward and would contribute to the drug trade.

"And that marijuana then goes back out onto the street, maybe into the hands of some kids," McKinney said. "(The bill) is very well-intended, but I think there's a lot of room for error here."

Freedman introduced a few amendments that would either provide additional restrictions or call for further study of the bill.

But even if any of her amendments were adopted, she said she still would vote against the bill.

Freedman also had a message for the ill residents who may have been watching the debate.

"We hear your pain. We feel your pain," she said. "But there has to be a way to make it subside with legal means."

Duff did not participate in the debate, but afterward said the bill is flawed because anyone who takes advantage of the legislation would be breaking the law.

"You cannot, legally, get the first seed . . . under federal law. Your doctor can't give you the first seed. You can't mail order the seed, legally," Duff said. "Our country abides by the rule of law, so therefore this is not a bill we really should be debating in the legislature."

McDonald said afterward: "It would still be illegal under federal law, although I can't point to one case in the country where the federal government has arrested somebody for purchasing marijuana seeds for medicinal purposes."

He said the bill could be challenged in federal court.

"But now we're going to have 13 states," he said. "I'm pretty certain we're close to a tipping point where the FDA will be forced into a position of funding studies they've consistently refused to undertake."

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