The Consumer Protection Department took hours of public testimony Monday on its draft efforts to regulate marijuana in a manner that is comparable to its oversight of traditional pharmaceuticals in Connecticut.
The medicinal marijuana law that the state adopted last year is designed to allow people with certain debilitating illnesses to access cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation to be distributed through a licensed pharmacist.
The legislation, considered among the most restrictive of its kind, left the task of regulating the the new medical marijuana system up to the Consumer Protection Department, which recently released 76 pages of draft regulations.
On Monday, people seeking to comment on the regulations packed a hearing room and overflow room in the department’s Hartford headquarters.
John Gadea, director of drug control for the department, said the agency sought to craft regulations that mirrored the regulation of other types of prescription drugs.
“Broadly speaking, the regulations are designed to create a regulatory structure for the certifications of patients and the production and sale of marijuana that parallels the existing structure of the prescription production and sale of other controlled substances,” he said.
However, within the first hour of public testimony, it was evident that people on both sides of the issue consider marijuana to be in some ways distinctive from other types of medication.
Several industry representatives, who have been involved in similar efforts in other states which have legalized the medical use of cannabis, offered some changes to the department’s proposed regulations.
For instance, one provision of the draft calls for branding strains of marijuana. It requires that laboratories test the chemical composition of strains of the plant grown for medical use. The regulations stipulate that in order to be marketed as the same brand, different marijuana products must have the same composition of active ingredients like THC within a range of 97 – 103 percent.
It is customary for medication of the same brand to have consistent composition of key ingredients. However, Meg Sanders, a representative of a Colorado medical marijuana company called Gaia Plant-Based Medicine, said the requirement, when applied to a plant, is overly restrictive.
“Those deviations could occur within the same plant, and certainly from batch to batch. As long as the ingredients are listed from the batch sample, and the patient knows the characteristics of a registered brand, the spirit of what I believe are the goals of this provision, would be protected,” she said.
Sanders proposed other changes like asking that patients be permitted to inspect samples of the strain of marijuana they were seeking to purchase.
Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, who was overseeing the hearing, asked why patients would need to see the samples of the plant material when it is not necessary for patients to see samples of other controlled substances.
Sanders said it was different because marijuana is a plant.
“It’s not a processed pill. It’s not something that is in a capsule, in a sealed bottle. This is a flower, a bud that patients actually like to see and smell because there is some type of importance as far as how that patient is going to enjoy the medicine,” she said.
The Consumer Protection Department is also weighing another concern that does not apply to traditional medications: the impact legal forms of marijuana might have on the state’s young people.
John Davio, chairman of the Connecticut Marijuana Abuse Prevention Alliance, said states that have legalized medical marijuana can have higher instances of abuse by minors, who see the substance as less risky than their peers in other states might.
Davio called for several changes to the proposed regulations, including prohibiting marijuana products which might appeal to youths. He said the department should also strengthen its regulation of potential cannabis marketing.
“I think it’s up to the state to ensure its law is not misunderstood by our vulnerable populations,” he said.
Rubenstein said the department has been focused on setting up regulations that “minimize the spillover of this product to our youth population.”
Matt Cook, a consultant and former Colorado official who helped draft that state’s medical marijuana regulations, told Rubenstein the process is a difficult task.
“I have a true appreciation for what you’re going through today and I’m probably one of the few who can say I’ve been there and done that. It is truly why God made alcohol, I believe,” he said.
Although many people sought changes to the recommendations the department has proposed, Tracey Gamer-Fanning Shimer a brain tumor survivor and president of the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, thanked the agency for trying to regulate a substance that has improved her quality of life.
“These rules and regulations you’re setting up, I promise you, as a patient we will not let you down. We will follow them. And the doctors that you’ve entrusted, they will do their jobs,” she said, crying. “Thank you for doing this. Thank you for listening to all of us.”