State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, the Somers Republican who years ago lost her husband to bone cancer, is once again leading an effort in the General Assembly to legalize medical marijuana.
Bacchiochi, who is engaged to be remarried in August, still speaks passionately about the issue. And she appears to have the qualified support of her north central Connecticut colleague, state Sen. John A. Kissel (R-Enfield). The legislature's Judiciary Committee, where Kissel is the ranking Republican, must decide the fate of four marijuana-related bills before the General Assembly by April 15.
Those include Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposals to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and to legalize medical marijuana, as well as a separate legislative proposal on legalizing medical marijuana and another that would regulate synthetic marijuana.
Kissel has previously supported medical marijuana initiatives and says he supports the principle concept of easing the suffering of people with debilitating diseases. But when Bacchiochi assured him during a recent public hearing that no language regarding the creation of marijuana dispensaries—which have drawn sharp criticism for how they are operating in other states—is included in the bill, Kissel asked the obvious question:
“If we don’t have dispensaries, how would someone obtain the marijuana?” Kissel said. “I don’t want to create a world where they’re going on street corners or they’re calling up, you know, folks that are ‘in the know’ to try to get this drug. I’m just wondering about the mechanics of it. The policy I understand, but the mechanics of how it might play out is my concern right now.”
Bacchiochi, who owns a property management company in Stafford, qualified her answer by saying she is not a defense lawyer, but added that there are plenty of people using medical marijuana now.
“I would imagine that network would continue to be in as close contact as they are now, and they would provide the initial first seed or the first plant as a tool to extend the network for medical marijuana patients,” Bacchiochi said, adding that the bill provides qualified patients with the option to grow marijuana in their homes. “The bill before you allows two ounces and four plants. So once this law is passed I believe that’s how it will move forward, that one medical marijuana patient, who would be protected under the law, would provide another medical marijuana patient with either a plant, or the beginnings of marijuana, so that they and their one caregiver could move forward within the framework and the regulation of the law.”
Listen to their exchange here.
A day later during an interview on Dan Lovallo’s “Talk of Connecticut” show on WDRC AM 1360, Kissel suggested that he thinks medical marijuana would need more regulation than that, and that pharmacies can play a key role.
"As much as it's compelling when you have people with Parkinson's or cancer or any number of debilitating diseases coming out and speaking to you very personally, I think the notion of having people grow plants in their houses is really problematic, very impractical,” Kissel said. “And the testimony yesterday bore out the fact that if you do go down that path, people break into people's homes to steal that stuff. So we had the pharmacists come up and support a proposal to treat it like any other kind of drug and it would have to go through the pharmacies and you would have to check against other prescriptions to make sure there are no problems that way. If we're going to go down that path, I think it needs to be highly regulated."
Listen to Lovallo’s complete interview with Kissel here.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll suggests there is overwhelming public support for medical marijuana in Connecticut, including a 79 percent majority in favor among voters and 70 percent in support across all groups.
Aside from the medical marijuana discussion, Kissel also told Lovallo that he is opposed to Malloy’s bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana as it is written, calling it “much more dangerous.” However, the same Quinnipiac poll suggests that support for decriminalization also is strong in Connecticut, with 65 percent in favor among voters.
"There's just no way I'm ever going to support that,” Kissel said, despite the poll’s release a few days before the March 14 public hearing. “In fact, the bill doesn't even distinguish between someone who's picked up for possessing marijuana that's 21 or 14. So at least I'm trying to make a bad bill better by saying, ‘Listen, if these individuals are charged or given a ticket and they are minors, they should at least go take a course and realize there are some important life choices.’”
Michael Lawlor, who previously co-chaired the Judiciary Committee before being appointed Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice issues, asked the committee to consider marijuana decriminalization and medicinal usage with an eye toward keeping non-violent drug offenders out of the system in order to save the state money. He also said studies show that legislation doesn’t appear to have an impact on marijuana usage.
A 2010 legislative research report attempted to analyze the fiscal impact of marijuana decriminalization in other states. The report cites a Harvard University study suggesting Massachusetts, which decriminalized small amounts of marijuana a few years, will save about $29.5 million dollars.
But Kissell cited Chief States Attorney Kevin Kane, who testified that there isn’t much money to be saved by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana because few people are sent to prison for simple possession.
"But boy oh boy what a message does it send, " Kissel said. "I'm very concerned about that bill."
Read Kane’s testimony along with the rest of the written testimony submitted at the March 14 public hearing here.