How to Fix Connecticut's Medicinal Marijuana Laws

by Keith B. Vines, Esq. Assistant District Attorney, City and County of San Francisco

Now that Maine voters have approved medical use of marijuana, bringing this previously West Coast issue to the East Coast, it's time for Connecticut to revisit its own medical marijuana law. As someone who grew up in Connecticut and now uses medical marijuana to stay alive, I'd like to see my home state get the benefits of a compassionate law that helps patients and protects doctors.

As this newspaper recently reported ("State's 18-Year-Old Medical Marijuana Law Ignored," 11/4/99), Connecticut has long allowed patients to use marijuana if prescribed by a doctor. Bu, prescription of marijuana violates federal law, so Connecticut actually makes federal felons out of a physician who wants to help a patient. The solution is simple: change the law to allow medical marijuana use upon a doctor's "approval" rather than "prescription." This protects the doctors, and it would allow patients, like me, to use marijuana without fear of arrest by state or local authorities.

Does marijuana have medical benefit? Yes. A federally-funded Institute of Medicine study recently confirmed that fact. Is it a perfect or ideal medicine? No. Indeed, few medicines are. Medical technology may eventually relace smoked marijuana, but saying "just wait" is preposterous for seriously ill people who need marijuana today.

I am a former Captain in the U.S. Air Force, Judge Advocate General (JAG)Corps. Since 1985, I have worked as an assistant district attorney in San Francisco, where I have successfully prosecuted numerous drug cases, including the second largest drug bust in San Francisco history, a marijuana case. I send drug traffickers to prison.

I am also an AIDS patient. In 1993 I was diagnosed with AIDS wasting syndrome. I suffered a devastating weight loss of 45 pounds. I watched my body disintegrate. I couldn't sit in a chair because I was sitting on bone. I was afraid of dying.

My treatment with a growth hormone to combat the wasting would not work without three high-calorie meals daily. Without an appetite, this was impossible.

My physician recommended Marinol - the prescription THC pill - but it did not work for me. It knocked me out for hours and did not stimulate my appetite.

I was dying. I discussed with my physician the benefits and risks of smoking marijuana and decided to try it. It worked. I was able to control the dose. It did not incapacitate me. With my appetite restored, I could eat, and with the growth hormone, I regained my lost weight.

I don't use marijuana recreationally. I don't like being stoned, but I do like being alive. People who suffer from serious illnesses who need marijuana are not smoking to get high, but to get healthy.

Connecticut had the right idea when it became one of the first states to allow marijuana to be used medically. A group called A Better Way is proposing to change the state laws so that patients and doctors will get the protection that was always intended. The group can be reached at (203)777-0496.