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Westport Legislators Debate Medical Marijuana Plan

WESTPORT, Conn. – A proposal that seeks to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Connecticut has divided Westport’s state legislators.

The bill, which comes nearly a year after state lawmakers decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, seeks to allow people with debilitating medical conditions to treat their symptoms with medical marijuana. Despite its good intentions, state Sen. Toni Boucher, who represents Westport, says she opposes the bill.

“It is disappointing that in this year’s session, filled with hope for educational reform, we should be considering a bill that would send such a negative message to our families and children — the very ones that education reform is meant to assist in making the most of their potential,” Boucher, a Republican, told the General Assembly Judiciary Committee last week.

Under the current draft of the bill, patients looking to use medical marijuana must be diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition, which includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and others. The medical marijuana would be grown only by licensed producers and dispensed by licensed pharmacists.

Boucher, who was also a vocal opponent to decriminalizing less than a half-ounce of marijuana, said legalizing the use of medical marijuana would not only send the wrong message to the state’s youth. It would also “increase substance abuse, crime and legal challenges in Connecticut that have characterized medical marijuana programs in other states.

Westport state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat, said the abuse of medical marijuana in states such as California is concerning. However, he said he’d be inclined to support the bill if the final version minimizes potential for abuse.

“I’m not sure we can legislate making sure a doctor actually knows a patient before writing a prescription, but there needs to be mechanisms in place to avoid widespread prescribing,” he said. “We need to learn the mistakes that these other states made and craft a better model for Connecticut — something we’re happy with years down the road.”

Other than language, Steinberg said the proposal, if passed, would be in conflict with federal law. Although 16 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, he said it remains illegal under federal law, and state laws do not supersede federal laws.

“If I were to vote in favor of it, I would do so knowing I’m voting for something that’s in direct conflict with federal law. But we’d be in good company, if you will,” he said. “And who knows. It might prompt clarity from the attorney general as to whether he intends to enforce all or part of the federal legislation.”

Westport Police Capt. Sam Arciola said if the bill does pass, the department would enforce the law as written. To help enforcement, he said he hopes the legislation would require authorized users to carry documentation, proving their use of marijuana is legitimate.

One concern, however, is the possibility of prescribed users driving under the influence of marijuana. Under current state law, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is an arrestable offense.

“I trust the state legislature will take that into consideration if this does move forward,” he said.

To read the current proposal, click here.

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