Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell (R) Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana in the Constitution State. The Compassionate Use Act (HB 6715) passed the state Senate by a vote of 23-13 after clearing the House an 89-58 vote weeks earlier, both of which were wide -- but not quite veto-proof -- margins.
Gov. Rell showed great cruelty to patients with her veto of Connecticut's medical marijuana bill.
To override the gubernatorial veto, bill supporters would need 24 votes in the Senate and 101 votes in the House. None of the bill's legislative sponsors have made any public noises about attempting an override. Lead backer Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R-Somers) was quoted in an Associated Press article
as saying she would work with the governor to seek compromise legislation next year.
In her veto message, Rell cried crocodile tears for Connecticuters who could benefit from the therapeutic use of cannabis. "While the bill seeks to provide relief to patients suffering from severe and persistent pain, the bill also requires that patients or primary caregivers engage in illegal activity to use marijuana."
"I am not unfamiliar with the incredible pain and heartbreak associated with battling cancer and I have struggled with the decision about signing or vetoing this bill," Rell continued. "I completely sympathize with the well-intentioned goal of alleviating pain and suffering, but legal alternatives are available, the bill forces law abiding citizens to seek out drug dealers to make a purchase, and there is no provision for monitoring use or proof of its effectiveness."
Rell also worried that signing the bill would "send the wrong message" to young people and noted that few doctors prescribe marijuana because it is a violation of federal law. The bill would have allowed doctors to issue recommendations, not prescriptions.
The bill would have allowed adult residents suffering from diseases including AIDS, MS, and cancer to grow marijuana at home once they had a recommendation and had registered with the state.
While Bacchiochi expressed some sympathy for the governor's soul-searching on whether to sign the bill, State Senator Andrew J. McDonald (D-Stamford), the deputy majority leader, said after the veto was announced that Rell had not raised her concerns when the bill had been drafted. "In many ways, a gubernatorial veto represents a failure of leadership by the governor rather than an exercise of leadership," McDonald said. "The governor clearly stands apart from the vast majority of her citizens in opposing this legislation."
After the bill's passage, patients, doctors, family members and advocates mounted a massive letter and phone call campaign urging the governor to sign the bill. The governor was receiving hundreds of phone calls and letters every day in support of medical marijuana, including from medical, legal, and health experts from across the country.
"The governor's veto message shows that she's grasping for straws," said Lorenzo Jones, executive director of A Better Way Foundation, which rallied support for the legislation. "She said previously that she'd support the bill if it was only for terminally ill patients, because clearly other treatments are not sufficient. Now she says she's vetoing the bill because it's still illegal under federal law, even though over 99% of all marijuana arrests are under state law. She has been so evasive on this that it makes one wonder if she hasn't gotten a call from Washington. Is she taking the advice from the worst administration in history over the demands of 83% of Connecticut residents?"
"It's unconscionable that Rell would ignore all the science to veto this bill," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director at the Drug Policy Alliance, which also pushed for its passage. "The medical efficacy of marijuana is unassailable. As a result of this veto, are patients who use marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering still considered criminals?"
The answer is yes, at least until next year.