Legislative attorneys signed off Thursday on changes to the medical marijuana regulations that a legislative committee plans to debate next week.
Most of the 118 changes were technical and grammatical clarifications, but some were more substantive like whether there will be background checks for caregivers and questions about when patient fees should be waived. The 13 concerns under the subhead “substantive” were addressed by the Department of Consumer Protection, according to a recent draft copy of the changes from the Legislative Commissioner’s Office.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday that he believes the legislative attorneys’ concerns have been addressed.
“I’m hopeful that they’ll pass these regulations,” Malloy said.
He said there are medical benefits to the use of marijuana and if anyone had any doubts about that they need to read the story about the 6-year-old epileptic in Colorado. The child was being devastated by upward of 300 seizures a week and a special blend of marijuana has cut that number down to six, Malloy said.
While medical marijuana may not be the right medicine for every patient, Malloy said he feels very strongly “this is the right way to go.”
Under Connecticut’s law, patients would have to be at least 18 years old and be diagnosed with a debilitating disease by a physician in order to buy marijuana from a licensed producer.
But the Regulations Review Committee, which has tabled part of the item at least three times since March, is still struggling with the best way to move forward.
Rep. Selim Noujaim, who co-chairs the 14-member Regulations Review Committee, said he has two concerns. The first is the number of corrections. Noujaim said 118 corrections is a lot and in the past members have said they cannot sign onto a regulation with so many technical corrections.
Noujaim’s second concern is much broader. “I want to know if it conflicts with federal law,” he said Friday.
Noujaim, who voted against the bill, said he remembers clearly what former U.S. Attorney David Fein said last year in response to questions from state lawmakers.
In a 2012 letter to Sens. Michael McLachlan and Toni Boucher, Fein said “House Bill 5389 will create a licensing scheme that appears to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution, which would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances.”
The letter was held up by opponents of the legislation as a reason not to pass it. On the other side of the debate supporters sympathized with patients who may benefit from its use.
Seven members of the Regulations Review Committee voted against the legislation legalizing medical marijuana, six voted in favor and one didn’t vote on the underlying bill because he wasn’t in the legislature at the time.
But those votes shouldn’t matter, Malloy said Friday.
“I’m hopeful that members of the committee understand that this is not the passing of the legislation they may oppose. It’s passing regulations to allow those laws that were properly adopted in the House and in the Senate to be implemented,” he said after an unrelated event at the state Capitol.
He said the regulations process and the legislative process are two different and distinct functions.
Ethan Ruby, president of Theraplant LLC, described next Tuesday’s meeting of the Regulations Review Committee “historic.”
Ruby is head of one of about two dozen companies that want to grow marijuana in Connecticut. He was previously involved with a production and dispensing operation in Colorado, but it ceased operation after three years and for the past several months he’s been “one hundred percent focused on Connecticut.”
His company already has secured a location in Watertown where it hopes to grow marijuana after obtaining a license from the state. But the first hurdle will be approval of the regulations Tuesday, Aug. 27.
If the regulations are rejected next week the entire process will be set back a month, which means it will take longer to get it into the hands of patients who need it, Ruby stressed Thursday in a phone interview.
“This is not a slippery slope,” he added. “These are very serious regulations.”
He said there’s no fear that Connecticut will turn into Venice Beach, Calif. with dispensaries on every corner. He said Connecticut has looked to avoid the problems of other states.
There may be up to 10 licenses for the production of marijuana and the committee will need to approved the regulations on Tuesday in order for the Department of Consumer Protection to draft the application.
Ruby estimated that it will take the department 30 to 45 days to draft the application. Then producers will be given another 30 to 45 days to fill out the application. Finally, 30 to 45 days after that, the department will award the licenses. Once that happens, Ruby believes his company would be able to get up and growing by January. It would take another six months to grow the plants to offer to patients in various forms.
“It’s nothing short of historic,” Ruby said of next week’s meeting.
He said his company will not let this effort fail.
As of July, 735 Connecticut residents have registered with the Department of Consumer Protection to use medical marijuana.