A marijuana plant
This is a picture of Medical marijuana products available for sale at Prime Wellness, a dispensary in South Windsor.
Medical marijuana products available for sale at Prime Wellness, a dispensary in South Windsor. Arielle Levin Becker / CTMirror.org

The recreational marijuana debate is tabled for now, but 18,000 Connecticut residents are using the drug to help with specific debilitating medical conditions.

Medical marijuana was legalized in May of 2012 and put into practice in September of 2014. In the five years since its legalization, the number of dispensaries grew from six to nine. The number of patients in Connecticut now stands over 18,000. Regulations expanded to allow minors with certain serious illnesses to use medical marijuana. St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center began testing the drug as an alternative to opioids.

Connecticut Drug Control Division director Rod Marriott said the program is well-received by patients. “It’s always great to hear… about a patient that’s using a product from medical marijuana in Connecticut that’s helping them to have a better quality of life,” Marriott said.

Who uses medical marijuana?

Among the 22 qualifying conditions are cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis. Marriott estimates about 7,000 new patients are added each year.

It’s difficult to determine how the number of patients in Connecticut stacks up against that in other states because programs and qualifying conditions vary widely across the country.

Where are medical marijuana dispensaries?

Initially, six dispensaries were approved by the state and established in Hartford, Branford, Bethel, South Windsor, Bristol and the Uncasville section of Montville. In 2016, two more dispensaries were added in Milford and one in Waterbury to meet higher demand in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

Where does Connecticut stand compared to other states?

Connecticut is the only state that offers medical marijuana as treatment for cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and post-laminectomy syndrome. Cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy are on the short list of qualifying conditions for minors in the state.

Connecticut is one of only three states that doesn’t list chronic or severe pain as a qualifying condition, along with Illinois and New Hampshire. Connecticut and New Hampshire each list around 20 qualifying conditions and Illinois lists about 40.

The Department of Consumer Protection’s (DCP) Board of Physicians recommended seven new conditions this year, including spasms or pain from fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, postherpetic neuralgia, muscular dystrophy, migraines, hydrocephalus with headaches and trigeminal neuralgia. The board also has recommended that muscular dystrophy be added to the list of conditions for minors.

Medical marijuana patients, current and prospective, are encouraged to attend Board of Physicians meetings and testify about their experience with medical marijuana or their wishes to have a condition added. The Board of Physicians makes recommendations, which then pass through the state’s Office of the Attorney General and the Regulation Review Committee of the General Assembly.

Marriott also noted that the state classifies marijuana as a Schedule II drug, at odds with the more-restrictive federal Schedule I classification.

While many states regulate medical marijuana through their public health departments, the DCP regulates medical marijuana in Connecticut. DCP communications director Lora Rae Anderson said while other states regulate medical marijuana as they would liquor, the DCP wants marijuana to be seen as a pharmaceutical drug. “We want to make sure that medical marijuana is treated just like any other prescription drug,” Anderson said.

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