The president of an organization called the U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce visited the state Capitol on Tuesday to congratulate Connecticut on its new medical marijuana law and advocate the economic benefits of legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
“I want to give two thumbs up to the state of Connecticut for bringing in medical marijuana,” Thomas Leto III told reporters on the North steps of the Capitol.
Connecticut’s medicinal marijuana law went into effect Oct. 1. The law will eventually allow people with certain debilitating illnesses to get a recommendation from a doctor to receive marijuana from a pharmacist. While that system is being developed, patients with a doctor’s certification can apply for a temporary certificate from the Consumer Protection Department to avoid being fined for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Leto said his Washington, D.C.-based organization has around 560 business affiliates and 10,000 members nationwide. He said they would like to see marijuana decriminalized for both medical and recreational users.
Leto dismissed concerns that marijuana functions as a gateway drug and said tobacco and alcohol are both more addictive and dangerous.
“If you compare cigarettes and alcohol to marijuana, I think that marijuana is probably the safest thing we’ve got out there,” he said, adding that at least 500 people a year die from aspirin, whereas no one has died of a cannabis overdose.
Leto also touted the medicinal value of marijuana, saying it provides relief from pain without the lethargy and potential for addiction present with painkillers like Vicodin. He blamed pharmaceutical, alcohol, and tobacco industries for fighting to keep the “safe plant” illegal in order to increase their own profits.
Marijuana legalization should be an issue in this year’s presidential election because it could provide the country with needed economic relief, he said.
“Now is the time. I think our economy’s in a real bad place and I think this is one way we can make a big difference,” he said.
Leto said the economic benefits of a national law legalizing marijuana would be astounding. He cited economist Stephen Easton, who estimated in 2009 that spending on marijuana ranged somewhere between $45 billion and $110 billion a year.
But talk of fully legalizing marijuana likely is not what advocates who pushed for Connecticut’s medical marijuana law want to be hearing as the new law goes into effect. The bill was touted as one of the most restrictive and comprehensive pieces of marijuana legislation in the country.
One of those advocates, Erik Williams, was at the Capitol observing Leto’s press conference. Williams is the Connecticut director for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws. He seemed wary of Leto’s message, saying that Leto didn’t seem to be informed about the details of Connecticut’s law. Williams said his group has a good working relationship with other marijuana business advocacy organizations like the Cannabis Business Alliance.
“We’re doing it right in Connecticut. We welcome anyone in the state who’s running a legitimate business. I just don’t know if that’s the case here,” Williams said.
Kristen Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Cannabis Business Alliance, said her organization does work in states across the country, but also that she had only recently been made aware of the U.S. Medical Marijuana Chamber of Commerce after Leto endorsed President Barack Obama.
Thomson said the business alliance is a trade organization that sticks to the issue of medicinal marijuana. Even with legalization of marijuana for everyone on the ballot in its home state of Colorado, the organization hasn’t delved into the issue, she said.
“We’ve not taken a position on it,” Thomson said.