Hartford - The Connecticut Senate passed a bill early Saturday to legalize the use of medical marijuana. The new bill (recently passed by the House of Representatives) will impose very tight restrictions on cultivation and distribution of the controversial drug.
After nearly 10 hours of debate on the measure, the bill reached final approval Saturday by the vote of 21-to-13 and soon will be sent to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to be signed into law.
In a recent statement released by the governor's office, Gov. Malloy said he plans to sign the bill when it reaches his desk and believes it would “avoid the problems encountered in some other states.”
Connecticut will join 16 other states along with the District of Columbia in authorizing the use of medical marijuana with California being the first state to legalize the use of the drug in 1996.
Medical marijuana advocates say the Connecticut bill goes farther to regulate the drug than any other state. Under the new measure, caregivers along with patients are required to register with the Department of Consumer Protection, doctors must certify a medical need for the drug and it can only be dispensed by pharmacists with a special license.
The tight restrictions in the bill are an attempt by lawmakers to avoid some of the problems encountered by other states which at times found state law in conflict with federal law.
“I’m feeling rather proud of the fact that many people who have reviewed this bill are very complimentary about it and said that it was the best that they’ve seen on the subject of medical marijuana,” said Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield.
Alan Shackelford, who serves on a Colorado state advisory group on medical marijuana and advised Conn. legislators on the new bill told the Associated Press: "I think experience has shown, that having statewide structures in place makes it easier for everyone to understand what the rules really are."
Opponents of the measure were active in the debate as well, circulating a letter from U.S. Attorney David Fein to state senators saying: "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."
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury also raised concerns about the potential conflict between state and federal law. "We're creating new law, flying in the face of federal law," said the Senator.
In a statement, DOJ spokeswoman, Allison Price said, 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.”