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02/06/2007 00:00:00

US: WI: Cannabis Measure Passes Senate


Seriously Ill Would Be Allowed To Grow Pot

After five years of on-again, off-again debate, Connecticut lawmakers
Friday passed landmark legislation allowing seriously ill people to grow
marijuana at home to ease their pain or reduce unpleasant side effects
of treatment.

The bill passed by a 23-13 bipartisan vote in the state Senate, where it
appeared people's personal experience with pain and loss trumped
politics on this occasion. The House of Representatives passed the bill
last week, 89-58.

The bill now goes to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has already expressed
concerns about its broad reach but is waiting to review the bill's final
language before deciding whether to sign it into law. Rell has said she
would feel better if the bill were limited to people diagnosed as
terminally ill.

State Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, introduced the bill on the
Senate floor Friday.

"This legislation is tightly constrained to help a clearly defined group
of people who are suffering," McDonald said. "These people who are
suffering shouldn't have to suffer the threat of criminal prosecution in
seeking treatment."

McDonald pointed out that a 2004 survey by the University of Connecticut
Center for Survey Research and Analysis showed 83 percent of Connecticut
residents support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes
if a doctor prescribes it.

Although he wasn't sure how Rell would act, McDonald said he didn't
believe she was "in the 17 percent minority."

Republican opponents of the bill worried about the message the
legislature was sending to children and whether a political body was the
best place to decide appropriate medical remedies.

State Sen. Sam F.S. Caligiuri, D-Waterbury, said the bill may ultimately
"do more harm than good."

"We'll be sending a mixed message to young people about whether
marijuana is good or bad," Caligiuri said. "We're going to undercut our
ability to keep children away from this gateway drug."

"This is definitely an emotional tug," said Sen. John McKinney,
R-Southport, whose father, U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, died of AIDS.
"To those who support this bill, I say your cause is noble, I just don't
think this is the right way to get there."

Under the bill, patients with certain serious or chronic medical
conditions such as cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma and multiple
sclerosis could grow as many as four 4-foot-tall marijuana plants in
their homes, provided they obtain a doctor's prescription to do so.
Those patients would have to register with the state Department of
Consumer Protection, which would enforce the policy should it become law.

The bill does not limit legal use of marijuana to the terminally ill,
nor does it address how sick individuals or their caregivers would
obtain the marijuana seeds to grow the plants. Local pharmacies do not
stock marijuana or its seeds because of current restrictions under
federal law.

Connecticut already has a law legalizing marijuana, but it is virtually
useless. Current law allows doctors to prescribe marijuana to ease the
pain and discomfort of chemotherapy or for those suffering glaucoma. But
no prescriptions have been written because doctors don't want to risk
prosecution under federal law.

Twelve states currently allow the palliative use of marijuana. Rhode
Island has one of the most liberal laws, allowing as many as 12 plants.

Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, said she has seen research that
shows marijuana use among young people declined in states that allowed
medical marijuana.

"When you start using it as medicine, it starts losing its tempting
attraction," Handley said.

The Connecticut Nurses Association, the National Academy of Science, the
Lymphoma Foundation, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Yale
School of Public Health have all come out in favor of medical marijuana,
according to Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford.

"People are suffering and medical professionals in the field tell us
this drug, under controlled circumstances, can provide some relief,"
McDonald said.

But the American Cancer Society, the Connecticut State Medical Society
and the national Multiple Sclerosis Society are silent on the issue,

"The very doctors charged with taking care of all of us have said `we
can't support it,'" McKinney said. "That in itself is extremely persuasive."

Sen. Judith G. Freedman, R-Westport, led the Republican Party's
opposition. Freedman said commercial drugs on the market can provide
equal relief for pain.

"It hasn't been proven to me that this is the only route available to
people who are suffering," Freedman said.

Freedman also expressed concern about the message the bill was sending
children who have been taught that illegal drugs are wrong and bad.

"What are we telling our children when we stand here in this circle
saying let's legalize in Connecticut what the federal government says is
illegal?" Freedman asked.

Contact Colin Poitras at

Author: Hartford Courant via UKCIA

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