Newsbrief: Connecticut Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote 4/16/04

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The effort to pass a medical marijuana bill in Connecticut moved one step closer to fruition Tuesday as the Joint Appropriations Committee approved the bill on a 26-20 vote. The bill has already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee, passing on a 24-15 vote on March 15.

The Tuesday vote came amid a growing clamor to pass the legislation. Just two weeks ago, former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders penned an op-ed in the New Haven Register endorsing the measure. "It is simply wrong for the sick and suffering to be casualties in the war on drugs," wrote Elders, who is also supporting a medical marijuana initiative in Detroit.

Elders is not alone, the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) reported. According to MPP, some 300 Connecticut physicians have come out in support of medical marijuana legislation.

One of those doctors was Nancy Sheehan, MD, who testified eloquently about how her late husband was helped by medical marijuana in his fight with cancer. "There is no doubt in my mind that marijuana made his life worth living and no other medication could do that," Dr. Sheehan told the committee.

Also testifying along with Sheehan were medical marijuana patients Ned Pocengalo and Mark Braunstein, as well as two AIDS specialists and a pharmacist, all of whom said that marijuana was a safe and effective treatment. But not everyone was in favor of the bill. Rep Toni Boucher testified that bill sends a message that pot-smoking is okay because marijuana would be seen as a medicine, and Ginger Katz, who lost a son to a drug overdose and now heads the Courage to Speak Foundation (http://www.couragetospeak.org) -- "saving lives by inspiring youth to be drug free" -- testified that medicalizing marijuana is a ploy of the drug legalizers.

Katz is a pro. Her foundation is funded by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Katz is a frequent speaker at anti-drug confabs, having addressed events such as the CADCA National Leadership Forums in Washington, DC 2002 and 2003 the National Association of Drug Court Professionals conference in 2002, the OJJDP (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention) National Convention that same year, and the New England Governors' Drug Summit late last year, among other appearances, according to her web site.

The Connecticut medical marijuana bill, HB 5355, would allow patients and their caregivers to possess up to five plants and one ounce of marijuana for the treatment of various debilitating conditions with a doctor's certificate. The language of the bill makes the list of maladies amenable to medical marijuana almost endless: (1) cancer, HIV, AIDS, or side effects of treatment of such conditions; (2) a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition, or the effects of treatment of such conditions, that causes wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscles spasms; or (3) any other medical condition the Department of Public Health approves by regulations requested by a physician or patient with a debilitating medical condition."

Click here to read the bill and related documents online.

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