CT medical marijuana regulations approved

A 14-member legislative panel approved regulations for the sale of medical marijuana Tuesday evening, clearing the way for medical marijuana to be sold in the state of Connecticut.

The state legislature first legalized the limited use of medical marijuana in May 2012, authorizing the state’s consumer protection bureau to generate more specific guidelines, mandating that medical marijuana grown and sold in the state be held to the same high standard as all other pharmaceuticals. The new regulations, which were approved by legislative consensus, drew both praise for their comprehensive nature and criticism that they will spur a standoff with the federal government, which outlaws all use of the drug.

“We’ve spent a lot of time putting together what we think are appropriate regulations,” said Bill Rubenstein, commissioner of the Consumer Protection Bureau. “What I can say is that we’ve based the program on how we regulate other pharmaceuticals.”

Unlike other states that have legalized medical marijuana, Connecticut mandates that the chemical makeup of every batch be tested to ensure consistency, Rubenstein said. Additionally, each batch will be labeled with the exact amount of its THC content.

The regulations specify 11 debilitating conditions that would permit a Connecticut resident to qualify for medical marijuana use, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Additional conditions can only be added through legislative action or a public petition which would have to be approved by a board of doctors.

Patients who qualify are granted one-year licenses to purchase medical marijuana, though each patient can purchase only up to a month supply at a time. In addition, doctors can revoke medical marijuana cards at any time, Rubenstein said.

The state began registering patients on a preliminary basis on Oct. 1, 2012, Rubenstein said, and 881 Connecticut residents have been certified thus far.

Once the regulations go into effect early next week, the state will begin accepting applications from those who wish to produce and sell marijuana. Applicants must pay $250,000 to apply for a permit and an additional $750,000 if they are granted one. Rubenstein said that the large price tags are necessitated by a clause in the law that prohibits the cost of regulating medical marijuana to come from the state’s budget. In all, Connecticut will award licenses to between three and 10 marijuana dispensaries as specified by the law.

Seven of the 14 committee members who approved the regulations on a voice vote voted against the initial 2012 medical marijuana bill. Much of the discussion before the vote was dominated by these dissenters — five Republicans and two Democrats — who opposed the law both for its potential conflict with federal law and the possibility that it will promote greater drug use.

State Sen. Len Fasano said that he had initially voted against the bill because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had sent letters to 10 states with medical marijuana laws warning that the federal government would be ready to seek an injunction against states who allow marijuana growers to open FDIC-ensured bank accounts or advertise their product.

“I voted against the bill because I thought state employees could go to jail [for enforcing the law],” Fasano said. “State employees are not immune from federal law.”

But on Thursday morning, Holder released a memorandum saying that the federal government would not prosecute states who tightly regulated their medical marijuana markets — which Fasano said are “essentially Connecticut’s regulations.”

If Holder had sent the letter in 2012, Fasano said he would have voted for the bill.

Republican State Sen. Vinny Candelora also criticized the regulations for their potential to incite a federal challenge. He also said he worries that many patients procure marijuana prescribed for medicinal purposes simply to enjoy for recreational use, and that the increased availability of the drug will act as a gateway drug for more people.

“I think for me on a personal level, my son came home referring to marijuana as medical marijuana one day,” he said. “To me, that’s disconcerting. That’s not to say that THC does not have medicinal use, but I don’t like the way that other states especially have treated the drug, and a lot of people use it to get high. They make jokes of it.”

Currently, 20 states permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, while two states, Washington and Colorado, permit the use of the drugs for recreation.

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