Pubdate: Thu, 22 May 2003
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2003, New Haven Register
Author: Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


HARTFORD - A bill that would have fully legalized marijuana for medical
purposes in Connecticut was narrowly defeated in the House of
Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill died on a bipartisan, 79-64 vote.

Rep. James Abrams, D-Meriden, who first proposed the legislation in 2001 to
help a constituent whose son was suffering from cancer, said he was pleased
and surprised the bill had made it as far as the House of Representatives
for a vote.

Abrams said he will bring it back next year for another vote, likely
changing the language to address some lawmakers' concerns.

"I'm a Red Sox fan, so it's always wait until next year," he said.

Debate on the bill lasted about 21 hours. Republicans and Democrats alike
spoke for and against the legislation.

Critics said the bill sends a bad message, especially to children.

They questioned why the state would want to make it legal for a group of
citizens to use an illegal substance.

"We are at a crossroads because the underlying activity we are talking about
is illegal," said Rep. Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. "We are passing a law
statewide, developing a law statewide, with full knowledge that the activity
we are trying to get around is illegal."

Connecticut already has a medical marijuana law on the books, one of the
first ones in the nation.

It was passed in 1981. Under that law, a doctor is allowed to prescribe the
illegal drug to relieve nausea associated with chemotherapy and eye pressure
from glaucoma.

But the law is unworkable because, under federal law, any physicians who
prescribe marijuana can be sent to prison and risk having their medical
license revoked, Abrams said. That's why a single prescription for marijuana
has not been issued since the law was approved.

The defeated bill would have allowed doctors to provide a written
certification that qualifies their patient to use marijuana only for medical
purposes. The patient or a caregiver could then grow three plants for
personal use and use the doctor's certificate as a legal defense for having
the illegal substance.

Lawmakers brought up numerous scenarios where someone might be able to abuse
the law. Others questioned where a patient could purchase the marijuana
seeds, an illegal act under state law. Rep. John Wayne Fox, D-Stamford,
questioned why the state would require people to go to "Johnnie Junkie" to
buy their plants or seeds.

But those lawmakers who spoke of relatives suffering from cancer voiced
support for the bill. Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, told how her late
husband suffered from terminal bone cancer, had to undergo aggressive
chemotherapy and endured incapacitating nausea for days.

Bacchiochi said doctors prescribed numerous drugs, but nothing worked until
one physician privately suggested marijuana.

"It worked, and it worked wonders, and it gave him back some quality of
life," she said. "I will always remember how my husband suffered and I will
always remember how, if this legislature had passed legislation like this,
he would have suffered less."
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