Conn. Senate continues medical marijuana debate – Waterbury Republican American

Posted on: May 5th, 2012 by admin No Comments

Conn. Senate continues medical marijuana debate

The Connecticut Senate debated a proposal Friday that would allow the use of medical marijuana but include strict regulations for the cultivation and distribution of the plant in an attempt to avoid problems other states have run into when legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Since California passed the country’s first medical marijuana law in 1996, states with similar measures have struggled with disorganization and clashes with the federal government, which considers the drug illegal and of no medicinal value. Advocates say the Connecticut proposal goes further than any other state in regulating the drug.

“Everything from California back is trying to get away from chaos,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

The legislation has already been passed by the House of Representatives. The Connecticut Senate was expected to grant final passage on the bill Friday. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Under the legislation, marijuana would be sold in multiple forms at dispensaries, which must have a licensed pharmacist on staff. It would be marketed only to patients authorized to use it. The measure also outlines specific diseases that would be treated by the drug, establishes a registration system for patients and caregivers and restricts cultivating the plant to growers with permits.

“I think experience has shown, that having statewide structures in place makes it easier for everyone to understand what the rules really are,” said Alan Shackelford, who serves on a state advisory work group for medical marijuana in Colorado and helped advise Connecticut lawmakers on their proposal.

But Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he believes the system proposed in Connecticut’s legislation is over-regulated. He said that while he agrees with some regulations in the bill, such as secure indoor growing facilities, he believes the restrictions could lead some people to obtain the drug through illegal means.

“Under this bill, there are restrictions every step of the way,” he said. “Therefore, to my mind as a practical matter, it is a fallacy to think that people would pursue marijuana this way, as opposed to other ways in the state of Connecticut.”

Opponents in Connecticut have distributed a letter to state senators from U.S. Attorney David Fein, who wrote that the Department of Justice would not go after the seriously ill patients who use the illegal drug, but would enforce federal laws against those who manufacture and distribute it.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana. In addition to federal efforts to shut down dispensaries in California and, to a lesser extent, Colorado, problems with regulation have arisen in states where the drug was legalized through ballot initiatives and the system was implemented without regulations in place, advocates say. Additionally, some states don’t allow medical marijuana dispensaries and patients are left to grow their own.

Several states have been taking steps lately to strengthen regulations.

Colorado, which passed a medical marijuana initiative in 2000, imposed tight regulation and state government control over dispensaries in 2010. New Jersey and Delaware also have passed laws in recent years to strictly regulate medical marijuana.

In California, state Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, said he is working to enact legislation that would further clarify that care providers be exempt from prosecution for providing the drug to patients.

“I’m hopeful that our attempts to further refine and define how to provide safe and affordable access with a physician’s recommendation, here in California, operates so the federal government will shift its priorities to more pressing needs of the American people,” Leno said.

But Leno said he is uncertain how states’ attempts to improve regulation will succeed in reducing federal scrutiny. He points to small patient-owned and patient-run dispensaries in his district that have been shut down by the federal government.

Allison Price, a DOJ spokeswoman, said in a statement the department “is focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers, not seriously ill individuals who are in compliance with applicable state medical marijuana statues.”

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