Bill to legalize medical marijuana in state advances
HARTFORD -- People with chronic diseases would be allowed to grow as many as four marijuana plants for their personal use under legislation that won easy approval Tuesday in the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee.
Based on other laws enacted throughout the nation, patients would have to be diagnosed with debilitating conditions, obtain certificates from their doctors and register with the state Department of Consumer Protection for a $25 fee.
The proposal sparked an hour-long committee debate in which an amendment submitted by minority Republicans that would shift the cultivation of marijuana to the University of Connecticut and its distribution to state pharmacies, was defeated 27-10.
"The reality is this bill could become law this year," said state Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, who introduced the amendment, then voted in favor of the overall legislation. "My constituents have told me loud and clear, if you're going to go in this direction, learn from the mistakes of other states and create the best possible construct you can," he said.
Allowing patients and their caregivers to grow marijuana in their homes seems "impractical," and could put them in danger from thieves seeking their crops, he said.
"The University of Connecticut is renowned for its School of Agriculture and the notion that they could create greenhouses and grow this under lock and key, I think, is completely plausible," Kissel said.
State Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the committee, said the bill is worded identically to 2007 legislation that won approval in the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
The bill, which goes on to other committees before eventual debates in the House and Senate, is part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget package and he would be expected to sign the bill. It would allow patients to use their certificates as a means to prevent criminal charges in state courts.
State Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, a committee member who opposed the bill, said he has a difficult time accepting arguments for the legislation. "I wish that our Legislature would go along with the whole theory of the medical community dealing with their patients in such a way that they have now found pharmaceuticals that are reasonably close to what the effects of marijuana do for their patients," McLachlan said.
"I just don't think state government should be involved in trying to regulate or allow illicit activities that in another environment are very negative and yet in this one remote area, although it's a good idea for the patient in their mind, I don't think that state government should be participating in this kind of regulation," he said.
State Rep. John W. Hetherington, R-New Canaan, ranking member of the committee, said that he would like to make every useful drug available to those in need.
"To the extent marijuana is that, we ought to find a way to make it available to those people who it will help," Hetherington said. "The fact of the matter is, though, it is contrary to federal law. Doctors writing prescriptions are subject at least to having their licenses revoked. I think that we are asking people to undertake at great risk, legally, by participating in this program. Lastly, what kind of message are we sending? We don't like the federal law, so we're going to simply disregard it."
State Rep. Arthur J. O'Neill, R-Southbury, warned that the state would be ignoring federal laws against marijuana and that states that have approved the medicinal use of the drug have seen an increase in its general use.
"Everyone I have talked to that effectively the people who are consuming medical marijuana, so-called, in California include a huge number of people who are, in fact, are really taking advantage of a loophole in the law to get around the entirety of the marijuana-control regime," said O'Neill, who voted against the bill.
State Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the committee, said that the federal Justice Department and President Barack Obama have announced that such violations are not a law-enforcement priority.