The legislature’s judiciary committee endorsed a measure that would permit patients to obtain a physician’s prescription for marijuana to ease the symptoms of a debilitating illness.
Proposals to legalize the medical use of marijuana have “been around a number of years in a number of different forms,” Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Gerald Fox said. Lawmakers passed a medical marijuana bill in 2007, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Last year, a similar bill had the backing of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy but it failed to become law, although lawmakers did approve the decriminalization of a small amount of marijuana.
This year, legislators said they made a number of changes to the bill to quell lingering questions about how patients would obtain the drug. “It’s the hope that this bill…can address many of the concerns that people have while still allowing for the relief those who came to testify before us…have stated they get from the use of marijuana,” said Fox, a Democrat from Stamford.
House Bill 5389 allows a physician to prescribe pot to a patient; the prescription will be limited to one year. Patients would obtain the drug at a licensed dispensary. “Everybody would have to be registered with the Department of Consumer Protection,” Fox said.
If approved, Connecticut would become the 16th state to legalize medical marijuana.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday morning found broad support for the bill: Connecticut voters approve of permitted chronically ill patients to use marijuana with a physician’s prescription, 68 percent to 27 percent. The poll of 1,622 Connecticut voters was conducted from March 14 to 19; the margin of error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. Interviews were conducted via landlines and cell phones.
During the hour-long debate, several Republicans on the committee expressed concerns about how the proposal would intersect with federal drug policies. “I’m sorry I just can’t find a way to understand…[why] we’re sidestepping a federal law when when we wink…and tell the doctors it’s ok [when] the federal government says no,” Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said.
Added Rep. Arthur O’Neill, “I have a hard time voting for this bill, though I feel an enormous amount of sympathy for the people suffering the pain.”
O’Neill, R-Southbury, said he would feel more comfortable backing the measure if lawmakers had consulted with the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut to determine how he would handle the law. Committee Co-Chairman Eric Coleman, D-Hartford, said he was agreeable to that idea.
Sen. John Kissel of Enfield, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was won over to the cause many years ago, after talking with Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, whose late husband relied on medical marijuana to ease the debillitating pain of bone cancer.
Even so, Kissel said he had some concerns about the practical aspects of the proposal: an earlier version permitted patients to grow their own marijuana, a provision that raised safety concerns for him.
But ultimately, Kissel said, the human stories won out. “When you sit here and…you listen to these individual’s really horrific circumstances in their lives, who are we to not allow them to access this if it gives them some relief?”