Amidst Federal Crackdown, Connecticut Marijuana Bill Gains Traction

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Watch The Pot Republic, an inside look at California’s attempts to regulate its booming medical marijuana industry — and the increasing pushback states are facing from federal officials.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws on the books right now, and Connecticut looks like it could be the next.

A bill to allow adults to use medical marijuana as prescribed by a doctor passed in a key state committee yesterday. According to The Associated Press, the legislation:

proposes a system for licensing medical marijuana producers, dispensing the drug, and registering qualified patients with debilitating conditions. Under the proposed bill doctors could prescribe marijuana to patients who suffer from certain specified illnesses. Additionally, the bill would limit medical marijuana prescriptions to a one year supply and require all drug manufacturing and distribution to be done in Connecticut.

The General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee voted 35-to-8 in favor of the bill, but some lawmakers expressed concerns that the legislation could invite federal intervention because marijuana — even when used for medical purposes — is still an illegal controlled substance.

“I have a hard time voting for this bill, though I feel an enormous amount of sympathy for the people suffering the pain,” said Rep. Arthur O’Neill (R), who added that he would be more comfortable if legislators had consulted the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut first.

That’s because, as we’ve been reporting, over the last year, the federal government has taken a number of steps to crack down on medical marijuana around the country. The crackdown, which is particularly fierce in California, the country’s largest marijuana market, makes putting new laws on the books risky, because states are unsure whether the federal government will force dispensaries to close down.

California prosecutors said the crackdown was aimed at dispensaries that use medical marijuana laws to cover up illegal drug trafficking. “California’s laws have been hijacked by people who are in this to get rich and don’t care at all about sick people,” Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, said last fall.

New Jersey, which passed medical marijuana laws more than two years ago, has delayed implementation, in part, because of local opposition, but also because “setting up a highly regulated system with safeguards against theft and fraud has proved challenging.” And since the crackdown began, both Washington and Rhode Island have backpedaled on efforts to allow dispensaries to open.

An earlier bill to legalize medical marijuana failed in Connecticut’s last legislative session after passing several committees, and a 2007 bill was passed by the legislature but vetoed by then-Governor M. Jodi Rell (R). Defendants of the current bill say it addresses earlier concerns by enacting specific regulations for licensing medical marijuana producers.

“We have crafted a bill that is very controlled and it’s our hope that it will alleviate a lot of the concerns people have had in the past,” the committee’s co-chair, Rep. Gerald Fox III (D), told the Associated Press.

The bill passed the committee on the same day that a Quinnipiac University poll suggested popular support for medical marijuana in Connecticut. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they support the use of medical marijuana with a physician’s prescription, while only 27 percent said it was a bad idea.

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