HARTFORD -- Nearly 10 hours and seven failed amendments after State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) started her final attempt to stop the bill, the Senate early May 5 voted 21-13 to allow the use of marijuana by the seriously ill.
The final vote at about 2:30 a.m. was the same as the first amendment that Boucher, R-Wilton, introduced late Friday night (May 4) in her bid to somehow sidetrack the legislation, which includes strict regulations for the cultivation and distribution in an attempt to avoid problems other states have run into when legalizing the plant for medical use.
After being drawn into legalese by nonpartisan legislative staff, the bill, which was approved by the House last week, will go to Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, who will in turn submit it to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. It should arrive on his desk by mid-month.
"This legislation is about accomplishing one objective: providing relief to those with severe medical illnesses," Malloy said in a statement after the vote. "I look forward to signing the bill.
The law would make Connecticut the 17th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to allow the medicinal use of marijuana by people with chronic ailments.
Supporters of the bill said Connecticut's legislation would become a model for the nation, avoiding the pitfalls that early adopters of medical marijuana, such as California and Colorado, have experienced with wider-than-anticipated use of the drug.
The bill would allow the state Department of Consumer Protection to set up as many as 10 secure indoor cultivation and distribution networks for people who are certified by doctors and pay a $25 fee.
Growers would have to pay $25,000 license fees and show a substantial ability to capitalize secure, indoor growing facilities. Pharmacists would have to be associated with the dispensary network to oversee distribution of the plant's dried flowers, which are often smoked or vaporized for inhalation.
"Some patients found that ingesting marijuana affords them the best relief in avoiding discomfort," said Coleman, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who introduced the legislation at 4:45 p.m.
"I am certainly convinced that the people who appeared before the committee and testified very credibly deserve some kind of relief and that marijuana would provide that relief," Coleman said. "I would say California is the best example of how not to do it."
Early in the debate, Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he would support the bill, indicating an eventual bipartisan vote. Kissel said that since last year's bill to turn possession of a half-ounce of marijuana to an infraction rather than a criminal offense, he doubts that its medical use would lead to an underground resale market.
The bill would limit access to the drug only to patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, malnutrition, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease and post traumatic stress disorder.
In the future, the Department of Consumer Protection and a panel of doctors, would be able to expand the list of diseases eligible for the drug.
The bill would reduce the classification of marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug to Schedule 2. Other Northeastern states that have similar laws include New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine.
Boucher had 48 amendments filed on the legislation in an attempt to change the bill or possibly kill it in the waning days of the General Assembly session that ends at 12:01 a.m. on May 10. Her first amendment, limiting the use of marijuana to patients diagnosed as terminally ill, failed 23-11.
During the first few hours of the debate, as Boucher settled into her major arguments against the bill, with a handcart full of amendments next to her, only a handful of lawmakers sat in the circle of 36 Senate seats. The number in attendance ranged from six to eight.
She didn't ask a question of Coleman about the legislation until her third hour of criticism against the bill. "We have different views on the use of marijuana for medical purposes," Coleman said in response to Boucher.
Many of the senators took time out from Boucher's initial monologue to eat dinner in their adjacent caucus rooms and attend a reception for lawmakers down the hall from the third-floor Senate chamber, sponsored by the Connecticut Beer Wholesalers Association.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.