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Medical Marijuana: Connecticut Bill Passes Legislature

A bill that would make Connecticut the 13th state to enact a medical marijuana law passed the state Senate last Friday by a 23-13 margin. It had already passed the state House by a similar 89-58 margin. The bill is now before Gov. Jodi Rell (R), who can sign it, veto it, or take no action, in which case it becomes law without her signature.

The margin of victory in the two chambers does not appear to be quite enough to override a gubernatorial veto, so proponents of the legislation are pressing hard to persuade Rell to either sign the bill or just do nothing. Rell has said she is "torn" by the bill.

"This bill will help alleviate the feelings of helplessness that families face when their loved ones suffer," said Lorenzo Jones, executive director of A Better Way Foundation, a state non-profit organization dedicated to drug law reform, which, along with the Drug Policy Alliance, has led the fight for medical marijuana in the Constitution State. "We've believed all along that compassion and fairness would bring this bill to final passage. Now we need the governor to sign the bill so families and patients can have some relief. We know she'll do the right thing."

"Allowing for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is the right thing to do for the State of Connecticut," said bill sponsor, Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-District 52. "This issue is not about legalizing drugs. It's about keeping those who seek compassionate care for treating crippling diseases out of jail."

The bill, HB 6715, would allow adult patients with debilitating medical conditions to get a doctor's certification that they could benefit from using marijuana. Certified patients and their caregivers would be registered with the state Department of Consumer Protection, after which they could grow up to four plants not to exceed four feet tall.

"I am just 32 years old and yet due to my medical condition I feel as if, at times, I am 92," said Joshua Warren, a patient in Wilton who suffers from chronic neurological Lyme disease. "I did not ask for this condition nor would I wish any of my pain and other symptoms on anyone else. I hope Gov. Rell will have compassion for me and for others and sign this bill."

Feature: Congress Moves to End Ban on DC Needle Exchange Funding

A nine-year-old measure barring the District of Colombia from spending its own funds on needle exchange programs (NEPs) instituted by conservative Republican lawmakers was removed from the DC appropriations bill Tuesday. Led by House Subcommittee of Financial Services and General Government chair Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the subcommittee voted to excise the language from the bill, a key step in allowing the District to enact the proven harm reduction measure in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne infectious diseases.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/preventionworksatwork.jpg
Ron Daniels at PreventionWorks! van, Washington (screen shot of recent nytimes.com ''slide show'')
Although it has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country, with as much as a third of it linked to injection drug use, Washington, DC is the only city in the country expressly prohibited from spending money for NEPs. According to the North American Syringe Exchange Association, more than 200 NEPs are currently operating in 36 states.

"My basic principle in this bill is that the federal government should not dictate to the city how to manage its own affairs or spend its own money," said Serrano in a Tuesday statement. "Therefore, you will find that we have removed or changed riders that have been in past bills that closely prescribed to the city what it should or should not do."

"This is a huge step in helping to reduce HIV and AIDS in Washington, DC," said Naomi Long, director of the Washington Metro office for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are pleased that Congress decided to stop playing politics with the lives of intravenous drug users in DC."

"This is extremely important," said Channing Wickham, director of the Washington AIDS Partnership. "About a third of AIDS cases here in the District are related to injection drug use. This is not a pro-drug move; it's a public health move," he told Drug War Chronicle. "There are numerous studies that show not only that giving drug users access to clean needles reduces the spread of HIV infections, but also that people in such programs get access to drug treatment and medical care. It's a win-win situation," he said.

"If they actually lift the ban, that'll be great," said Ron Daniels of Prevention Works!, a privately-funded NEP that arose in response to the 1998 federal ban on funding. "If they don't, our hands are tied. The people we are serving now are only the tip of the iceberg," he told the Chronicle from the mobile van the group uses to take clean needles to drug users. "We're only seeing about a third of the people we know are injection drug users. They have got to do something to stop this epidemic."

Even with the limitations imposed by having to seek out private funding, Prevention Works! managed to distribute more than 236,000 needles and had regular contact with some 2,000 injection drug users last year.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/needle-exchange-logo-small.gif
popular needle exchange logo
While the DC appropriations bill is still in the early stages, the subcommittee vote this week was a critical step, said Bill Piper, director of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This was the key vote," said Piper. "Committee chairs pick their battles carefully, and the fact that Serrano went ahead and did this suggests he thinks he can take this all the way. In the full committee, the Democrats will generally get behind whatever the subcommittee decided, and on the floor, the presumption will be against amending bills against the wishes of the committee."

That doesn't mean ideologically driven opponents will give up without a fight. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KA), the man who inserted the ban in 1998, was still at it this week. Apparently ignorant of the mountain of scientific evidence establishing the effectiveness of NEPs in reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, Tiahrt claimed that "needle exchange programs have been proven in many studies to be ineffective and a threat to the surrounding community, especially the children."

That prompted a Wednesday visit to Tiahrt's office by the Drug Policy Alliance, which hand-delivered numerous studies proving the effectiveness of NEPs. "Rep. Tiahrt's claims that syringe exchange programs don't work is similar to claiming the world is flat," said Piper. "We want him to have the information so he doesn't continue to embarrass himself and, more importantly, sabotage this life-saving measure."

With the subcommittee vote, DC is now closer than ever to being able to finance NEPs, and the measure will pass, Piper predicted. "I think this is one we will win," he said. "Not without a fight, of course, but the stars are aligned, everyone in DC wants this, and in the end, the DC syringe ban will be repealed."

Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Bill Vetoed, Override Anticipated

Last week we reported in Drug War Chronicle that Rhode Island's medical marijuana bill, to make the law passed last year a permanent one, had passed both houses of the legislature. As anticipated, Gov. Carcieri (to be referred to henceforth as "The Blue Meanie") vetoed the bill. He vetoed the last one, and the legislature overrode the veto and made the bill law anyway, and it's expected that that will happen again this time. But the status at the moment of this writing is that it's vetoed. Here's a Google news link to coverage of the bill. Also, a shout out to whoever sent our story around on StumbleUpon: thank you, it got us tons of hits.
Location: 
Kingston, RI
United States

DPA Media Advisory: Surprise Birthday Party for Gov. Spitzer; Advocates Ask Spitzer to Keep His Campaign Promise to Reform Draconian Drug Laws

MEDIA ADVISORY: June 7, 2007 Contact: Gabriel Sayegh, 646-335-2264 or Tony Newman, 646-335-5384 Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Advocates to Throw a Surprise Birthday Party on Friday at Noon for Gov. Eliot Spitzer Real Reform New York Coalition and Others to Deliver Birthday Cake and Card to Spitzer Asking Him to Keep His Campaign Promise to Reform Draconian Drug Laws New York, NY—The Real Reform New York Coalition will join with many others on Friday, June 8 at noon to throw a surprise birthday party for Gov. Eliot Spitzer outside of his New York City office. Asking him to heed his campaign promise to reform the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, the coalition will celebrate Spitzer’s promise of justice. The Real Reform New York Coalition, made up of advocates, people formerly incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws, their family members and supporters, will share cake and party favors with the crowd, and deliver a large birthday card—signed by New York voters—demanding real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. While campaigning, Spitzer promised to make Rockefeller Drug Law reform a priority during his term as governor. However, during the first six months in office, he has remained strangely silent about reforming Rockefeller Drug Laws. The Rockefeller drug laws underwent minor changes in 2004 and 2005. These changes proved to be ineffective in changing the racist and non-rehabilitative impact of these laws. The Rockefeller drug laws have filled New York’s state prisons with more than 14,000 people convicted of drug offenses, representing nearly 38 percent of the prison population and costing New Yorkers more than $550 million annually. New York’s Drug Law Reform Act of 2004 (DLRA) lowered some drug sentences but it fell far short of allowing most people serving under the more punitive sentences to apply for shorter terms. The reforms also did not increase the power of judges to place addicts into treatment programs. While advocates and family members are encouraged by the modest reforms, they maintain that the recent reforms have no impact on the majority of people behind bars. Most people behind bars on Rockefeller drug law violations are charged with nonviolent lower-level or class-B felonies. In April, the state Assembly passed A.6663, a bill that would significantly reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws by expanding treatment, reducing harsh sentences for low-level offenses, and increasing judicial discretion. Governor Spitzer has yet to comment on the bill, which is now sitting in the Senate. What: Surprise Birthday Party/Rally for Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Where: Outside Gov. Spitzer’s New York City Office, 633 3rd Ave. When: Friday, June 8, 2007, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Medical marijuana petition approved

Location: 
MI
United States
Publication/Source: 
Lansing State Journal (MI)
URL: 
http://www.lsj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070607/NEWS01/706070342/1001/news

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Legislature, Needs Governor's Signature

Friday night (too late for last week's Chronicle), Connecticut's state senate passed a medical marijuana bill, already passed by the House, and it is now heading to Gov. Jodi Rell's desk to be signed or vetoed. Rell has said she is "torn" over it. DPA's Gabriel Sayegh sent us the following links to media stories about it:
Op-ed by patient Mark Braunstein editorial from Harford Courant (it’s about 90% good; the part about the kid in Rhode Island is bad) Danbury Times editorial Stamford Advocate article Hartford Courant article NY Times AP story
Location: 
CT
United States

Press Release: California to Fund Needle Exchange Programs for the First Time

For Immediate Release: June 4, 2007 California to Fund Needle Exchange Programs for the First Time, Governor Passage of Legislation Still Needed to Purchase Syringes SACRAMENTO -- For the first time, the state of California will fund some needle exchange programs. On June 1, the HIV Education and Prevention Services Branch of the Office of AIDS announced awards totaling $2.25 million of direct state funding to Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs). Ten syringe exchange programs were awarded for $75,000 a year each for three years. Community-based organizations that operate SEPs and local health jurisdictions in areas where SEPs are approved for operation were awarded the grants. Because of a California law that denies the use of state funds to purchase syringes themselves, this funding will be dedicated to improving access to sterile syringes by increasing SEP operating hours, purchasing non-syringe operating materials, expanding syringe exchange to new locations, adding staff or improving compensation for existing staff as well as adding outreach workers, to encouraging clients of SEPs to test for HIV and HCV and link clients to medical care when appropriate. Funds may also be used to add services, such as wound care, that improve overall health and wellness for injection drug users. Assemblymember John Laird is sponsoring a bill, AB 110, to change the state law that denies the use of state HIV prevention funds for the purchase of syringes for clean needle and syringe exchange projects. The same bill was passed by a strong majority in the California legislature last year, but was pulled when Governor Schwarzenegger threatened a veto. Proponents are hopeful that this funding from the Office of AIDS will demonstrate the need for state commitment to such programs. "This funding represents a positive sea change in terms of support for needle exchange in California, said Hilary McQuie of the Harm Reduction Coalition, "But there are over 30 other programs in CA that don't get any state funding and survive on a shoestring, while courageously serving as a bridge between active injection drug users and medical and social services, reducing the spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases, and reducing the number of syringes discarded in public places. The governor should follow the lead of the Office of AIDS, and let local communities use their prevention dollars as they see fit." According to the Center for Disease Control, over a third of adult AIDS cases are associated directly or indirectly with injection drug use. In California, sharing contaminated injection equipment accounts for 20 percent of new AIDS cases. State data also suggests that more than 1500 new HIV infections occur annually due to syringe sharing. Seventy-five percent of HIV infections among women and children are related to sharing of injection equipment, and communities of color are hit especially hard. In addition to the human toll, the cost of medical treatment ranges from $200,000 to $600,000 over the lifetime of one HIV patient. # # # # The Harm Reduction Coalition is a national advocacy and capacity-building organization that promotes the health and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by drug use. For more information, see www.harmreduction.org
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Press Release: CT Set to Become 13th State to Legalize Use of Medical Marijuana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 4, 2007 CONTACT: Lorenzo Jones (860) 270-9586 or Gabriel Sayegh (646) 335-2264 Connecticut Set to Become 13th State to Legalize Use of Medical Marijuana Compassionate Use Bill Passes Legislature by Wide Margins, Heads to Governor’s Desk Patients, Doctors, Caregivers Call Upon Gov. Rell to Have Compassion, Support Patients by Signing HB 6715 HARTFORD, CT—Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the thirteenth state to allow the use of medical marijuana. The Connecticut State Senate passed HB 6715, the Compassionate Use Act late last Friday. The bill passed by a 23-13 margin after clearing the House of Representatives by an 89-58 margin weeks earlier. The bill now goes to Gov. M. Jodi Rell for her signature. If Rell neither signs nor vetoes the bill, it will automatically become law. Thousands of Connecticut residents live with crippling pain, are suffering with cancer and HIV/AIDS, or other debilitating ailments. HB 6715 allows Connecticut residents with certain debilitating medical conditions to cultivate and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a practicing physician. “This bill will help alleviate the feelings of helplessness that families face when their loved ones suffer,” said Lorenzo Jones, executive director of A Better Way Foundation. “We’ve believed all along that compassion and fairness would bring this bill to final passage. Now we need the Governor to sign the bill so families and patients can have some relief. We know she’ll do the right thing.” By passing HB 6715, the Legislature ended a five-year Legislative battle to win medical marijuana in a state that has overwhelming public support for the issue. A 2004 University of Connecticut poll found that 84 percent of Connecticut residents support the medical use of marijuana. Dozens of community organizations, including the CT Nurses Association, support medical marijuana. “Allowing for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is the right thing to do for the State of Connecticut,” said bill sponsor, Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-District 52. “This issue is not about legalizing drugs. It's about keeping those who seek compassionate care for treating crippling diseases out of jail.” Currently, there are 12 states with medical marijuana laws. New Mexico passed its medical marijuana bill in March. Last month, the Rhode Island legislature voted to make their state law permanent, and last week Vermont’s legislature voted to expand their medical marijuana law. Other medical marijuana bills are currently under consideration in New Jersey, New York and Alabama. “I am just 32 years old and yet due to my medical condition I feel as if, at times, I am 92,” said Joshua Warren, a patient in Wilton, CT, who suffers from chronic neurological Lyme disease. “I did not ask for this condition nor would I wish any of my pain and other symptoms on anyone else. I hope Gov. Rell will have compassion for me and for others and signs this bill.” ### -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-marijuana.artjun01,0,7... Allow Ill To Use Marijuana June 1, 2007 Rhode Island's yearlong experiment with legalizing medical marijuana has been a success. Connecticut should join its neighbor and 13 other states in letting seriously ill people have marijuana to ease their pain. So many of the 257 individuals in the Rhode Island medical-marijuana program have praised it that legislators in the Ocean State have voted overwhelmingly to make the law permanent. But Connecticut critics would impose such restrictions on a similar bill that recently passed the House of Representatives that they would put relief out of the reach of many who suffer greatly. For example, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's insistence on limiting the law only to the terminally ill could shut out those with debilitating chronic diseases. Under the bill, patients with certain medical conditions such as AIDS and with doctors' prescriptions could register with the state to grow up to four 4-foot plants. (Rhode Island's more liberal law allows 12 plants.) Some Connecticut legislators fear that doctors won't cooperate for fear of breaking federal drug laws, although they'd be immune from state prosecution. Such fears haven't stopped many Rhode Island doctors from participating in the program. And the vast majority of drug arrests are made by local and state police, not federal agents. Registration isn't a ticket to abuse, of course. A Rhode Island man who was registered to have medical marijuana was arrested for using the drug on MySpace to lure teenage girls. Abuse is rare, however, and outweighed by the compassionate relief that the medical-marijuana program could bring to hundreds of suffering patients. -------------------- Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant Lives Won't Go Up In Smoke If Marijuana Used Medicinally By Mark Braunstein Published on 5/31/2007 in Home »Editorial »Editorial After its longest debate of this legislative session, the Connecticut House of Representatives last week passed for its second time in three years what today is known as House Bill 6715, An Act concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana. Courtesy of public access through Web broadcast video, I was able to listen to five of the six hours of the discussion. During debate, advocates seldom challenged the opposition's many erroneous assertions. One of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, did say after the vote that she could have disputed the opposition's claims, but instead she coolly sat it out and let the heated debate take its course. As a paraplegic who has used marijuana medicinally for 17 years, and publicly for the past 10, I instead must take a stand. In past debates, many legislators had loudly called to question the very efficacy of medical marijuana. This year, however, such doubts were largely muffled. This can in part be credited to the many patients since 1997 who have volunteered their testimony at hearings before the Public Health and the Judiciary committees. Many of their painful stories encapsulated into three minutes are not easily forgotten. What does appear to have been forgotten is the list of more than 300 medical doctors in Connecticut who three years ago endorsed the bill. The objections voiced this year by House members instead centered on the tangential issue of marijuana as a recreational drug. In doing so, they confused medicinal apples for recreational oranges. Their two main contentions were these: marijuana is an addictive drug; and it opens a gateway to even more addictive drugs. I dispute both claims. For living proof, I look to all my friends and to the millions of youths who smoked pot during the 1960s, but eventually tired of and outgrew it in the '70s. No rehab, no 12-step programs, no purges. They simply shed it like a winter coat in summer. Now pushing 60, some of those former pot smokers have infiltrated the ranks of our legislators. Rather than further lengthen the debate, they simply ignored the opposition's impassioned but baseless claims, and voted for the bill. House members opposed to the bill several times cited extreme cases of ruined lives gone to pot. Some recreational users do become habitual abusers, but they rank among the exceptions, not the far broader rule. Adherents to the gene theory of addiction believe that if marijuana did not exist, born addicts who placate their addictive behavior with marijuana instead would seek harder drugs, namely tobacco and alcohol. On a personal note, I can attest that except for one cup of coffee once a month, I abstain from all addictive drugs, whether recreational or medicinal, whether herbal or pharmaceutical. Now age 55, during my lifetime I smoked tobacco only once and got drunk only twice. I must not have been born an addict. Presently, when I refrain from my herbal medication, I experience return of the muscle spasms and shooting pains that are the symptoms of spinal cord injury. As for any symptoms of withdrawal from marijuana, I experience none. Able to abstain from addictive tranquilizers to relax my spasms, and from addictive narcotics to assuage my pains, my life is not ruined precisely because I have gone to pot. Then there's the tiresome gateway theory. It is not true that 99 percent of all coke, crack and heroin addicts first started their descent on drugs with marijuana. They first started their descent with caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. What is true is that 99 percent of all youths who use marijuana never go on to use coke, crack or heroin. For that 1-percent minority, the relationship of marijuana to other recreational drugs is associative, not causative. If you restricted the sale of milk to only nightclubs and bars, then you could say that drinking milk leads to drinking alcohol. Again on a personal note, I can attest that I have tried coke only once and never tried crack or heroin. Never. And not for lack of opportunity. During my field research into the drug scene in southeastern Connecticut, I have borne witness a dozen times while people smoked crack and shot heroin. Indeed they were just people, not monsters nor demons. Demons may or may not lurk in the drugs they use. But demons surely reside in our fears of the drugs we do not use and therefore do not know. Mark Braunstein is a college librarian, a nature photographer, and the author of two books and many articles about art, literature, vegetarianism and wildlife. He has testified in support of Connecticut's medical marijuana bills many times before the Public Health and Judiciary committees, and hopes this year will be the last. He can be reached at herman.melville@yahoo.com.
Location: 
Hartford, CT
United States

Carcieri vetoes medical marijuana

Location: 
Providence, RI
United States
Publication/Source: 
Providence Journal (RI)
URL: 
http://www.projo.com/news/content/MARIJUANAVETO_06-05-07_K95T58D.330d62e.html

Congress Should Let DC Fund Needle Exchange

Back during our jury civil disobedience in 2004, David Guard and I did our community service time at the needle exchange program here in Washington and got to know the people there. They've been doing a lot for the community, all of it with privately-raised funds, but more is needed to be able to reach all the people who are at risk from contracting diseases like AIDS or Hepatitis C through needle sharing. The District of Columbia government would almost certainly fund needle exchange work, but Congress gets to control what our budget looks like if they want to, and in their infinite wisdom (sarcasm) they decided to forbid DC from spending even its own taxpayer dollars on needle exchange. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which has jurisdiction over this area of the US Code, has said he wants to undo the restriction. Today the New York Times ran a strongly supportive editorial:
Washington, D.C., is one of America’s AIDS hot spots. A significant proportion of infections can be traced back to intravenous drug users who shared contaminated needles and then passed on the infection to spouses, lovers or unborn children. This public health disaster is partly the fault of Congress. It has wrongly and disastrously used its power over the District of Columbia’s budget to bar the city from spending even locally raised tax dollars on programs that have slowed the spread of disease by giving drug addicts access to clean needles.
The Times titled the editorial "Congress Hobbles the AIDS Fight." The activist paraphrase of that, which is how the editorial was first presented to me, would be "Congress has blood on its hands." Last week the Times also ran a news feature about DC's needle exchange, and an online "slide show" featuring the program's Ron Daniels. The larger legislation in which the DC funding ban could get repealed is expected to move quickly, with markups scheduled for Serrano's subcommittee tomorrow and the Appropriations Committee of which it is a part next week -- you never know how quickly something will really move in Congress, but that's how it looks right now. Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

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