Lawmakers approve expansion of state’s medical marijuana program

Lawmakers approve expansion of state’s medical marijuana program

HARTFORD — After a nearly two-hour, contentious debate Tuesday, the General Assembly’s bipartisan Regulation Review Committee approved adding six new ailments to the state’s medical marijuana program.

The program, established by the legislature in 2012 with 11 recognized ailments, now includes 17. State Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris proposed the additions. Legislators on the Regulation Review Committee voted to strike Fabry disease from the list because the Board of Physicians, which advises Harris, didn’t reach a consensus on whether it can be treated by the drug.

The committee voted 8-5 to approve six other ailments: sickle cell disease, post laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and complex regional pain syndrome.

Based on the committee’s authority, no further action needs to be taken on the proposal. The committee is tasked with approving regulations proposed by state agencies before they are put into place. Seven Democrats and seven Republicans sit on the committee. State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, a committee member, was absent Tuesday.

At the start of the meeting, state Rep. Vin Candelora, R-North Branford, said he was surprised the Department of Consumer Protection wanted to expand the medical marijuana program given that there are “still questions about the effects of marijuana on the existing medical conditions that Connecticut has identified.”

The state’s medical marijuana law prompted the establishment of a board made up of physicians familiar with the drug and its medical effects. That board is allowed to make recommendations to Harris about what ailments should be added to the state’s original list. Members of the public can also submit a petition to have an ailment added.

The board couldn’t reach consensus on Fabry disease, a genetic disorder that can affect the autonomic nervous system, cardiovascular system, eyes, and kidneys. Harris used his discretion to put the ailment on the list. Harris said he is a member of the board, but chooses not to vote. Per state law, he has the authority to determine what ailments are placed on the list, no matter what the Board of Physicians recommends, Harris said.

The committee voted 7-6 to strike Fabry disease from the list.

Candelora also made a motion to strike complex regional pain syndrome, citing concerns that this would open up the state’s program to general pain management.

“I feel like this provision has sort of gone too far and against the intent of the legislature, which was clear we didn’t want to extend the use of the marijuana for pain,” he said.

Harris explained that complex regional pain syndrome is a debilitating condition that is diagnosable, unlike many other forms of pain, such as a headache.

People often can’t move and commit suicide due to the levels of pain associated with the condition, said Michelle Seagull, DCP’s deputy commissioner.

With complex regional pain syndrome and other conditions, marijuana isn’t the main treatment, but an alternative to highly-addictive opioid medications, she said. Candelora’s amendment failed by a 6-7 vote.

More than 8,200 patients registered for the state’s medical marijuana program. The state has four licensed medical marijuana growers, and six dispensaries, though three additional dispensaries have been proposed.
Twitter: @Andyragz


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