A well-crafted medical marijuana law

For years, advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana - many of them individuals suffering from various health problems - have appeared before legislative committees. Their stories were the same - only the use of marijuana provided relief from their debilitating conditions without the unbearable side effects of prescribed drugs.

It is good to see a majority of lawmakers have listened to them, approving a bill that will make Connecticut the 17th state to legalize marijuana as a palliative for the chronically ill. Unlike his predecessor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2007, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plans to sign the measure into law.

We recognize the measure remains controversial. The Connecticut State Medical Society opposes legalization for medical use. This naturally-growing plant lacks the research and federal approval that pharmaceutical-company drugs receive only after extensive clinical trials to determine efficacy and side effects. Marijuana does not have, in medical verbiage, "a reliable and reproducible dose."

Yet this and prior legislatures have listened to compelling and consistent testimony about the relief marijuana provides for many. Compassion dictates providing marijuana as an option to relieve suffering.

As Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, noted: "Who am I to deny relief for someone from that discomfort?"

The state has learned well from the mistakes made by prior states that approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This is no California law, a provision with so few restrictions that the drug can be prescribed for seemingly anything, and now easily obtained in a near de facto legalization.

As we have said before, whether it makes sense to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for recreational use is a reasonable policy debate to have at some point, but backdoor legalization should not come in the form of medical marijuana. The Connecticut legislature has not done that.

Under the Connecticut law, a person will be able to use marijuana for medical reasons only after receiving a certification of need from a physician. The bill spells out the permitted medical uses, including for the side effects of cancer treatment, and for glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic and nervous system disorders, and epilepsy.

The marijuana would be grown indoors by growers licensed by the Department of Consumer Protection and distributed by licensed dispensaries, overseen by the same state agency. The legislation permits up to 10 growers and 10 dispensaries.

There is the discomforting reality that use of marijuana remains a federal crime. President Obama has said his administration is not interested in cracking down on legitimate medical use approved by states. But federal drug busts at some California dispensaries shows that his assurance is hardly ironclad.

Preferably, Congress would approve a law specifically leaving the medical marijuana decision up to states. One would think Republicans, the party of state rights, could get on board with such a proposal. But as we have seen with gay marriage, Republicans can get a little fuzzy on their advoacy of state rights when it comes to measures that make the culturally conservative wing of the party uncomfortable.

For now, an understanding between the federal government and the states on this issue must suffice.

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