The vote was 96-51 in favor.
Read Bill Here: HB 5389
Patients would be required to receive a prescription from a physician to receive marijuana to relieve pain from illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV and multiple sclerosis. The bill would allow some producers to cultivate and grow the marijuana, and licensed pharmacists could provide the marijuana to patients. Patients would need to requalify every year in order to keep smoking medical marijuana.
The bill prevents all prison inmates and anyone younger than 18 from obtaining medical marijuana to relieve their pain, regardless of the extent of their illness.
Some legislators spoke from personal experience on the emotional issue, detailing pain and suffering by family members. Others said they were troubled as they tried to balance compassion against the rules of federal law.
"This is a tough issue for me. I am truly torn,” said Rep. Brian Becker, an attorney and West Hartford Democrat who is serving his first term in the legislature. "I have concluded that the way to help them is to ask the United States Congress to approve the use of medicinal marijuana. … Today, the use of marijuana for any purpose is a federal crime. … No matter what we do, the federal government may still prosecute under federal law.”
He added, "Any pharmacist … would risk arrest by federal agents and the loss of his or her federal license to dispense.”
The debate, which was continuing late Wednesday night, took place only two days after U.S. Attorney David B. Fein of Connecticut issued a strongly worded letter to two state senators about the bill.
"House Bill 5389 will create a licensing scheme that appears to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution, which would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances,” Fein wrote. "Accordingly, the Department of Justice could consider civil and criminal legal remedies against those individuals and entities that set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries, as they will be doing so in violation of federal law.”
Fein focused directly on the potential sellers and distributors of marijuana, rather than those who would be using the drug. He noted in the letter that "the Department of Justice does not focus its limited resources on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen in compliance with state law” across the country.
But some of Wednesday’s lengthy debate did not focus on the federal criminal aspects. Rep. Christopher Lyddy, a Newtown Democrat, stood up and said he would support the bill because of his family circumstances and the illness of his late father.
"My father wanted just enough energy and comfort to hold his three new grandchildren,” Lyddy told his colleagues.
The debate in Connecticut has changed sharply since 2003, when the measure failed on the floor of the House after an emotional debate. The issue passed one year later, in 2004, by 75-71, but it has never been signed into law. After being passed by both chambers in 2007, the bill was vetoed by Republican Gov.M. Jodi Rell.
Rep. Gerald Fox III of Stamford, the co-chairman of the judiciary committee, noted that patients have testified to the committee that "the best relief that they get for their pain, the best relief they get for their respective illnesses, has been the use of marijuana.”
Prescriptions, he said, have made patients feel worse, and the only thing that they say can relieve their pain is marijuana. Nationwide, 16 states andWashington, D.C., have enacted a form of medical marijuana laws.