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Medical Marijuana Program OK'd, Paving Way To License Growers and Dispensaries

Posted on August 27, 2013 by News Admin

Despite some concerns that it conflicts with federal law, Connecticut's new medical marijuana program cleared the last major hurdle Tuesday when the program's regulations won approval in a key vote, allowing the state to move forward to license growers and sellers of medical marijuana.

The General Assembly's regulation review committee approved the regulations in a voice vote. William Rubenstein, consumer protection commissioner, said his department will file the regulations with the secretary of the state by next Tuesday. Within two weeks, he said, the department will begin accepting applications for producers and dispensaries. The application process will take 60 days, he said, and the department will award licenses around the beginning of the year.

Licenses will be issued to between three and 10 producers. Rubenstein said the "current thinking" is to license three to five medical marijuana dispensaries, although that could change as more patients register to use the drug. As of Tuesday, he said, 881 patients have been certified by their physicians for medical marijuana use.

The conflict between state and federal law was the main issue at the hearing. Federal law does not legally allow either recreational or medicinal use of marijuana; U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this year that federal officials will clarify their stance on medical marijuana "relatively soon."

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Rep. Vince Candelora, R-North Branford, were among those on the committee who voted against the regulations. Both argued that because the state's regulations are so detailed, it increases the risk that federal officials could prosecute those involved in the medical marijuana program, including state employees.

It's one thing for a state not to prosecute certain illegal activities, Fasano said, but when it regulates it, the state becomes an active participant in that illegal activity. He said the state was almost inviting the federal government to prosecute, comparing it to "standing there with the cape in front of a bull."

"We're going far beyond what any other state has done," Fasano said. "These are the most intense, in-your-face regulations you've ever seen — 'Come get us.'"

Rubenstein said after the hearing that he believes the thoroughness of the regulations will stave off federal scrutiny.

"We have always been of the belief that the more assurance that we have that marijuana would be limited to its medical use and not subject to theft and diversion, that there's less possibility of our program conflicting with federal law," Rubenstein said.

West Hartford resident Tracy Gamer Fanning, who turned 43 Tuesday, said she would not have been able to attend Tuesday's hearing without marijuana. She was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 36, and her doctor first recommended the drug to her in 2008.

"I got it in any way, shape or form that I could get it," she said. The committee's vote means she will be able to get marijuana legally and safely, she said.

"I want to know exactly what I'm getting every month and how that's going to help me," she said.

The committee's vote, she said, is one more step toward taking away the stigma of medical marijuana. "I am not a criminal," she said.

Gamer Fanning also said she doesn't think legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana will promote its use among young people but likely will have the opposite effect. Her own two children and three stepchildren, she said, don't see marijuana as a recreational drug.

"They've lived with this," she said, "and they see this as medicine, not as something to party with."

Committee member Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said she was surprised that a voice vote was taken.

"I thought, given the controversy, I was a little surprised that they didn't do a roll call vote," said Wood, who voted in favor of the regulations.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, said voice votes are the norm for the committee. Votes on all the other issues before the committee Tuesday were voice votes, he said.

"We just did It the way we normally take the vote," he said. "No one called for anything different, so that's how we did it."

To qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes, a patient must be diagnosed with one of the following debilitating medical conditions: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease or post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Consumer Protection can add other medical conditions to the list, in consultation with a state-appointed, eight-member board of physicians.