Medical marijuana stirs pot of controversy

Connecticut residents suffering from a variety of severe illnesses can now legally purchase medical marijuana due to a law that went into effect Oct. 1.

The act, which the state General Assembly passed on May 5 and signed into law several weeks later, makes Connecticut the 17th state to permit medicinal marijuana use. According to the law, patients who wish to use medical marijuana prescriptions must first be diagnosed with at least one of several conditions enumerated in the law and then complete an online registration process before they can legally purchase the drug. Eligible patients, however, will have to wait several months before purchasing marijuana in Connecticut, as the state has yet to license any dispensaries.

“There are thousands of people in Connecticut who will likely benefit from this legislation as they struggle with debilitating and life-threatening illnesses,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a May press release.

Under the law, conditions that make one eligible for medicinal marijuana prescriptions include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The specificity of Connecticut’s requirements is a response to what many legislators and activists felt were lax requirements in other states, such as California and Colorado. Restrictions in the law include banning the prescription of medical marijuana to those under 18 and an application fee of $25,000 for dispensaries.

“When I looked at some of the other states that took what I thought was almost a wild, wild west approach of allowing people to grow plants at home and the lack of oversight and regulation, I did not believe that [taking the same approach] was the right thing for Connecticut to do,” Connecticut State Senate President Donald Williams told the Hartford Courant.

According to the Medical Marijuana Program, only registered pharmacists will be able to obtain the dispensary license necessary to sell marijuana, but the state has not disclosed when the applications for such licenses will be released. The law also includes provisions for the authorization of up to 10 cultivation facilities for marijuana, but a timeline for their establishment is also currently unavailable. For the moment, patients granted licenses are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per month.

Although many Democratic legislators, along with Malloy, have celebrated the passage of the law as a step toward aiding Connecticut’s ill, many across the state have spoken out against it, citing the logistical difficulties other states have faced as well as the potential for non-legitimate drug use.

David Melillo, the director of the Youth and Family Services community center in Madison, Conn., noted in a speech to the Madison Board of Selectmen that medical marijuana users do not always suffer debilitating illnesses.

“The prototypical medical marijuana user is a 37-year-old white male with no history of the designated illness and who has a history of drug arrests,” Melillo said.

In response to such criticisms, supporters of the law have noted the other drugs that anyone with a prescription has legal access to.

Senator Anthony Musto said in a statement the drugs “that many of us have in our medicine cabinets right now are more addictive and dangerous than marijuana.”

Though the law’s full effect in New Haven is still uncertain, Steven Duke, a professor at the Yale Law School, said the law is unlikely to cause a spike in city crime.

“Marijuana is not criminogenic. If, as is unlikely, medical marijuana legislation were to increase the consumption of marijuana in New Haven, there is a chance that this would reduce consumption of alcohol, heroin, cocaine or amphetamines,” Duke told the News. “If that occurred, the effect on crime rates, if any, would be downward.”

The legalization of medicinal marijuana in California, however, stands in stark contrast to Duke’s claim.

According to Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, medical marijuana has had a “debilitating impact” on the city by allowing those without severe illnesses to gain access to the drug. This, Yaroslavsky said, is due to poor regulation and has in turn promoted crime and drug use throughout Los Angeles.

“There has been a proliferation of dispensaries in L.A. which has really torn apart communities,” Yaroslavsky said. He added that the local government has not been permitted to regulate construction of dispensaries, and their proximity to schools and residential neighborhoods has been a source of controversy in the city.

New Haven Mayor’s Office Spokesperson Elizabeth Benton declined to comment.

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

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