New marijuana measure is a model for the nation

Now that the medical marijuana bill has passed both houses of the legislature and the governor’s signature is certain, there will be an upsurge of horrified and negative comments.

As a former practicing surgeon and a research analyst on drug policy at Central Connecticut State University, I know these concerns will be heartfelt and must be answered with respect for those concerns and with accurate information.

Those who are grateful for the passage of this bill should understand the fear that will be engendered by it in some. Some, like Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton, are firm believers that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the law will end up drawing in our vulnerable youth to a lifetime of addiction. And the approach California used for the dispensing marijuana for medical purposes buttresses that view.

For those who followed the legislative conversation and testimony leading up to the bill’s passage, this is an important ‘teachable moment’ for the unique nature of Connecticut’s bill. This bill is for sick people and requires a doctor’s recommendation (not a prescription). It is not licensing by subterfuge for recreational uses.

The emphasis of Connecticut’s bill is on the safeguards in place to provide truly needy patients with access to marijuana and to elude the risk that marijuana will be diverted for recreational use. Producers will have standards to meet and controls on their activities; producers and dispensaries will be limited in number; registered pharmacists must be approved by the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection to be able to dispense marijuana, and the dispensaries must be re-certified every two years.

In addition, the disease states for which this herb is appropriate will be limited; physicians must certify a medical need; and patients, who must be 18 or older, must also be registered and given a certificate to carry.

There’s more: When supervisors of administering marijuana are needed, they must also be certified; the amount of marijuana that can be dispensed is limited; and all certificates must be re-evaluated annually.

A Board of Physician supervisors, knowledgeable about the appropriate medical use of marijuana, will advise the commissioner of Consumer Protection.

In short, Connecticut has put a model law into effect that addresses concerns of safety and avoids the widespread diversion for recreational use seen in states like California. We can applaud the lawmakers for their thoroughness and openness to input from experts and the public.

One can hope that the decisions about the number of dispensaries and other administrative matters yet to be written to fulfill the requirements of the law will ensure that this modality of medical care will be equally accessible across the state to all who need it. Although some are disappointed that patients will not be allowed to grow their own marijuana, if confidence is gained in the function of this, the first law on medical marijuana, that possibility remains for the future.

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