(Updated 4:37 p.m.) The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony Wednesday on a bill to allow people with debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana legally.
The nearly-perennial proposal wasn’t introduced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy this year, but lawmakers believe it has a good chance of passing.
“It’s gotten though the committee the last several years,” Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Gerald Fox III said Friday.
Currently, 16 states and Washington D.C. legalize small amounts of marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.
“One of the other good things is that we’re learning from other states about how to get it right,” Fox said.
He said Connecticut’s bill would not create dispensaries like they have in California, which has recently attracted the attention of the federal government .
A similar bill passed both the House and Senate in 2007, only to be vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
The 2007 legislation would have allowed primary caregivers to purchase marijuana on the street or grow their own marijuana, which was a problem for some lawmakers.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he has trouble growing his own tomatoes and the 2007 legislation assumed “folks would have a green thumb.” It’s also tough to assume that the marijuana someone could purchase on the street wouldn’t come laced with some other harmful chemical.
Kissel opposed the legislation in 2007, but said Friday that he’s more inclined to support it this year because the draft legislation requires it to be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist.
He said he’s much more comfortable with a pharmacist dispensing it and he’s happy the Connecticut Pharmacists Association agreed to do it.
Last year, the Connecticut Pharmacists Association testified that it supported medical marijuana and would be happy to dispense it.
“If we are truly going to ‘legitimize’ the medical use of marijuana then I think we have to treat it like any other ‘medication’,” Margherita Giuilano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, testified last year. “There needs to be standards set on growing, quality assurance, labeling, packaging and dosing.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has some role in regulating the pharmacies, so it’s likely that pharmacies would have to dispense marijuana in a separate location within a store. It’s also unlikely the big chain pharmacies would be willing to participate leaving the independent pharmacies, hurt by the state’s recent decision to mandate mail order maintenance drugs for state employees and retirees, could benefit financially from dispensing marijuana.
Even though marijuana will need to be prescribed by a physician, under the legislation it’s not required to be covered by health insurance. The state will also be able to charge the primary caregiver or the patient not more than a $25 registration fee, which along with a prescription will give them the ability to purchase the drug.
Kissel said even though this is a legislative initiative and not something put forth by Malloy, he thinks it has as good a chance as any other legislative initiative.
“I sympathize with those facing these grave instances where marijuana has proved to be a benefit,” he said.
But his colleagues, like Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, will oppose the legislation.
Boucher has been a staunch opponent of legalizing any type of marijuana because she believes it will do more harm than good. She said Monday that even bringing the bill up for debate sends a very mixed message about what this legislature should be dealing with.
She said it wasn’t appropriate to delve into a discussion on marijuana when this is the year of education reform.
Research from other state’s shows that legalizing it even for a small population leads to experimentation by young people, she added.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said as an expulsion officer he’s seen an increase in the number of young people using marijuana. He worries about the legislation the state passed last year which decriminalizes small amounts of the drug and reduces possession to an infraction.
However, Cafero said he doesn’t see a problem with a pharmacist dispensing the drug to those who are ill. But he’s uncertain about how the state plans to get around federal laws governing the Schedule I drug.
John Thomas, a health law professor at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said he’d like to see the legislation passed, but believes there’s currently a cloud over medical marijuana under the Obama administration.
The Obama administration policy has been difficult to ascertain, Thomas said Monday. Federal prosecutors have cracked down on dispensaries in California this fall and earlier this month a federal judge in Sacramento dismissed a lawsuit filed against the government by the dispensaries and its patients.
“I worry about the DEA’s [Drug Enforcement Administration] actions in the West,” Thomas said.
Last year, Malloy signed into law a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana, but his bill to legalize medical marijuana didn’t make it through legislature.
This year, Malloy didn’t introduce medical marijuana legislation, but a spokesman said he still supports the idea.
Last year, a Quinnipiac University poll found voters support medical marijuana 79-17.
“There is a near consensus on the medical marijuana law with about 8 in 10 voters supporting it,” Poll Director Doug Schwartz said. “It is rare to see such a level of support for any issue.”
The public hearing on the bill will be held at noon on Wednesday, March 7.