The first of what may be many petitions aiming to expand the coverage of medical marijuana in Connecticut was recently brought before the state’s Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians.
Registered patients and medical representatives attended last Wednesday’s hearing in Hartford calling for four additional medical conditions to be legally treated through medical marijuana. Members of the public gave testimonies before the board petitioning for the recognition of each of the conditions — sickle cell disease, Tourette Syndrome, psoriasis arthritis and Post-Laminectomy Syndrome — a common issue following back surgery.
The meeting concluded with the proposal left unresolved, allowing for additional testimonies and materials to be submitted to the board before Dec. 12. Commissioner of Consumer Protection William Rubenstein said that the board’s next meeting in January will deliberate on the petitions and decide whether to add the conditions.
“We’re going to wait to see what the petition process brings in terms of recommendations from the Board of Physicians,” Rubenstein said. “Since we’re in the process of getting petitions from the public and evaluating additional conditions, I don’t want to prejudge the process.”
If the board approves these conditions, members must take further steps before the additions become formally recognized. Rubenstein noted that a letter of recommendation must be submitted by the board to the Commissioner of Consumer Protection before another public hearing is held. The motion will be approved only after a regulations review by the general assembly, he said.
Having only just been implemented in September, Connecticut’s medical marijuana statute allows for members of the public to request other debilitating conditions be added to the original 11 eligible for medical cannabis. However, other states have similar policies which have already been amended to include additional medical maladies.
“All of the qualifying conditions that were suggested to be added have been shown in other states and through research to be able to benefit from marijuana treatments,” said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We think that overall it’s always a good thing to allow more patients to be free from unrest and be able to have safe access to the medicine.”
Fox explained that the policy originally started with 11 conditions to make it easy to pass through state congress. He said that sometimes, in order to start protecting patients immediately, the lists for such laws are abridged. Since the program has taken a while to become active, legislators have not focused on expanding the protections, he added.
However, after hearing testimonies from the group, four meeting participants interviewed agreed that no one has yet made a case against the expansion of the policy.
“I’m sure there are people who would be opposed to the expansion of medical marijuana if you asked them, but I doubt they are motivated enough to get involved in the discussion,” said John Roberts, medical director of the Adult Sickle Cell Program at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “Usually for niche issues like this, the people who care about it are going to get involved, and the people who don’t care are just going to ignore it.”
Many of the experts interviewed agreed that the plant could prove to be beneficial as a palliative remedy. Brett Sicklick, director of operations at Prime Wellness Marijuana Dispensary, said that many potential conditions that could be treated through medical marijuana are not currently recognized in Connecticut. He added that significant symptomatic relief could be achieved if medical cannabis were incorporated.
Roberts pointed out, however, that there is no evidence, specifically in sickle cell disease, that marijuana will make people better off. He underscored that, for doctors to formally begin prescribing marijuana as a remedy for this disease’s symptoms, more research would have to be done. Nonetheless, he noted many of his patients have told him that the plant has helped them alleviate pain.
Marijuana is currently legal for recreational use in four states.