H.B. 5450, one of several state laws that went into effect this past Saturday, made certain Connecticut minors eligible for medical-marijuana treatment.
The law, which passed Connecticut State Senate on April 29, restricts eligibility to minors with debilitating conditions, such as cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and epilepsy. It further states that the minor must receive permission on behalf of a caretaker over the age of 18 to receive cannabis treatment. This caretaker will also be responsible for buying the drug from any of Connecticut’s eight state-approved marijuana dispensaries. The caretaker, or a nurse, will also administer the drug, according to the law.
Supporters of medical marijuana tout the drug’s ability to combat certain mental illnesses, such as anxiety, as well as some physiological conditions like epilepsy. A 2015 University of Colorado study cited by Safe Access Now, an organization with over 100,000 members nationally that advocates for safe access to marijuana, found that oral cannabis extracts halved the number of seizures experience by one-third of children with epilepsy. Another 2015 study from the University of South Florida College cited by the organization found that tetrahydrocannabinol, the active chemical in cannabis, mitigated vomiting in patients suffering from late-stage cancer.
“We strongly support the need for controlled, blinded studies to evaluate the efficacy and safety of [oral cannabis extracts],” the Colorado study’s authors wrote. “This study provides Class III evidence that [oral cannabis extract] is well-tolerated by children and adolescents with epilepsy.”
Still, support for the bill was not unanimous. Although Connecticut’s House approved the bill by a vote of 129 to 13, the vote in the Senate was much closer at 23 to 11.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, explained that she voted against the bill because she felt that the risks associated with exposing minors to marijuana far outweighed the benefits. She was especially worried by the lack of a minimum-age limit in the bill.
“When you’re talking about providing medical marijuana to young children with developing brains … there’s too much risk involved,” Boucher said.
As a member of the General Assembly’s Children’s Committee and Education Committee, Boucher met with doctors and discussed the benefits of medical marijuana, she said. Even after those meetings, the benefits were still too shaky to outweigh the potential damage of giving marijuana to children.
Boucher also said she had seen minors in her district develop serious drug problems after using cannabis regularly. As a result, she was wary of exposing minors to marijuana.
As of now, the federal government has yet to step in and make medical marijuana a federal issue. But statements from the Food and Drug Administration said the organization has not found any indication that cannabis products are safe and effective.
This law comes into effect at a time when liberal marijuana policies are sweeping through state legislatures. Just six years after the nation’s first medical-marijuana dispensaries opened in Oakland, California, marijuana has become legal for medicinal purposes in 25 states, and can be used recreationally in four of those states and in Washington, D.C.
In Connecticut, lawmakers have talked about legalizing recreational marijuana, but such legislation lacks substantial support.
“There are a number of individuals trying to do it on the house side,” Boucher said. “But I don’t know about the Senate. I don’t think there’s a real groundswell of support.”
Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas state legislatures will vote on medical-marijuana bills in November.