The Basics: Medical marijuana for minors wins final passage

The Senate on Friday passed a proposal to expand the state’s medical marijuana program to minors with certain medical conditions. The bill previously passed the House and now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose administration proposed the bill and who is expected to sign it.

What does the bill do?

basicsThis bill would allow minors with certain medical conditions to use marijuana for palliative purposes – with some restrictions.

Minors would be allowed to receive the drug – in forms that cannot be smoked, inhaled or vaporized – if they have permission from two physicians and a parent or guardian, and one of the following conditions:

  • A terminal illness that requires end-of-life care
  • An irreversible spinal cord injury with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Severe epilepsy or uncontrolled intractable seizure disorder

The bill also expands the conditions that would qualify an adult to use medical marijuana to include the list for minors. (Epilepsy was already an approved condition for adults.)

In addition, the bill would allow hospices or other inpatient care facilities to receive marijuana from a licensed dispensary if the facility has a protocol for handling and distributing the drug that has been approved by the state Department of Consumer Protection.

The bill also would allow the state’s consumer protection commissioner to approve research programs on medical marijuana, and requires the commissioner to adopt regulations for approving the programs and licensing their employees. Those research programs would be required to get their marijuana from licensed dispensaries, producers or labs, and their research subjects would have to be registered with the Department of Consumer Protection.

Another provision of the bill specifies that at least one pediatrician be on the eight-member board that makes recommendations about conditions that should qualify a patient for the program. It also allows the board to recommend removing conditions from the list, something physician groups have sought. And if the board considers adding a condition that would allow a minor to qualify, members would be required to consider the effects of medical marijuana use on the brain development of minors.

What does the bill not do?

The bill does not legalize recreational marijuana, as some legislators have sought, and does not require health insurance plans to cover the drug.

Who does it affect?
West Ann Tarricone of North Windham, who has hundreds of seizures per day.

Courtesy of the Tarricone family

West Ann Tarricone of North Windham, who has hundreds of seizures per day. Her parents have testified in support of allowing minors to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The provisions expanding medical marijuana access to minors are aimed at reaching children with severe medical conditions, including terminal illnesses. Analysts projected that fewer than 100 minors would be likely to participate.

Several parents of children who might qualify testified during the public hearing on the bill in March. Some described their children’s debilitating seizures and the negative side effects of the many medications they had already tried. One mother, Linda Lloyd, told legislators that after more than a dozen medications and two specialized diets failed to control her son’s catastrophic epilepsy, his last option – short of trying a form of marijuana – was surgery to remove almost half his brain.

Cara Tarricone, whose 8-year-old daughter, West Ann, has hundreds of seizures per day despite trying more than a dozen medications, a specialized diet, and steroids, said the bill’s passage came as a relief to her family. Still, because the provision expanding the program to minors won’t take effect until Oct. 1, Tarricone said she will still be worried about her daughter as they wait for the new treatment option. “We needed it last year, yesterday and today,” she said.

Why did it come up?

Connecticut lawmakers passed a law creating a medical marijuana program in 2012, but the program does not currently allow participation by patients who are under 18. This is unique; according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, Connecticut is one of 23 states – along with Washington D.C. and Guam – that have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, and the only one that does not allow at least some access for minors.

Much of the push for changing that came from families of children with severe seizure disorders. One key proponent was Susan Meehan, who moved from Montville to Maine so her daughter Cyndimae, who had a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, could legally be given oils derived from cannabis to help control her seizures. Meehan and Cyndimae returned to the state to testify at a public hearing this year, and Meehan said her daughter’s condition had dramatically improved after she began using the cannabis oils. Cyndimae, 13, died soon after. Legislators have said they intend to name the bill, if it becomes law, after Cyndimae.

This year’s proposal also had the backing of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which some legislators said helped to increase their comfort with the proposal. The group opposed a similar measure last year, but worked with the state Department of Consumer Protection on this year’s bill. The organization remains concerned about the effects of marijuana on brain development, but determined that for children receiving end-of-life care or having debilitating seizures, the potential benefits could outweigh the potential harms.

Others opposed the measure, including Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who made several attempts to amend the bill and raised concerns about the drug, the way the bill was written and the state’s medical marijuana program. She and other opponents have said more research is needed before allowing children to be exposed to marijuana and have raised concerns about the drug’s effect on the developing brain. Others said they worried it could send a message that marijuana is safe, making it harder to discourage young people from trying the drug.

How they voted

The House passed the bill 129 to 13. See how each member voted by clicking here.

The Senate passed the bill 23 to 11. See how each member voted by clicking here.

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