A state physicians board will hold a public hearing next week to decide whether to add new medical conditions to the state’s medical marijuana law.
This will be the first time anyone has attempted to expand the list of medical conditions for which marijuana can be prescribed since Connecticut passed the law in 2012.
The board will hear petitions concerning sickle cell disease, Tourette’s syndrome, post laminectomy syndrome, which causes nerve pain after spinal surgery, and severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, whose agency oversees the medical marijuana program, said Monday about 2,800 patients have been certified by their doctors to receive medical marijuana, although not all have been issued their official licenses yet.
These patients all have one of 11 qualifying conditions listed in the general statutes, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD, the only psychological disorder on the list.
Rubenstein said expanding the eligible list of conditions could take close to a year if the physicians board chooses to recommend any of the petitions. The board advises the Consumer Protection Department on the petition, but final authority rests with state bureaucrats and legislators.
There are two ways new conditions can be added to Connecticut’s medical marijuana law: through a statutory change by the legislature or a regulatory change through the Consumer Protection Department.
One of the four petitions to add a condition was filed by the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s Southern Connecticut chapter. The other three were filed by individuals. The Consumer Protection Department couldn’t release the three filed by individuals for privacy reasons.
The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s Southern Connecticut chapter was not immediately available for comment Monday, but according to their petition research shows people with the disease have been using it for pain management.
Sickle cell patients have crescent-shaped blood cells instead of healthy, disc-shaped ones. The sickled cells block blood flow and cause pain, which some researchers believe can be relieved by medical marijuana. Currently, the pain is treated with morphine or other addictive opiates.
The only medicine approved for the treatment of sickle cell disease is hydroxyurea, which is not a pain medication.
“Hydroxyurea has improved outcomes for people with sickle cell disease, but it has not eliminated pain,” according to the petition.
Dr. John Roberts of Yale University wrote in a March 2014 letter to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s Southern Connecticut chapter that there is no scientific evidence concerning medical marijuana use specifically for sickle cell disease.
“As a physician and researcher, I believe that medical marijuana might help persons with sickle cell disease in the same manner that it appears to help others with especially chronic pain,” Roberts wrote. “As a practitioner I know that many adults with sickle cell disease use marijuana. Many of those who are willing to discuss their use of marijuana report that it reduces their pain and decreases the amount of narcotic pain medications they take.”
But getting the law changed will be an uphill battle and the process is arduous.
First, someone must submit a petition to the state board of physicians for review. The board will hold a public hearing on the petition and then make their recommendations to Rubenstein.
Rubenstein then makes the final decision on whether to recommend the condition to the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee, which then goes through its own process.
Rubenstein said he does not expect the physicians board to make a decision at the hearing next Wednesday. They’ll likely hold off until their next meeting sometime early next year, he said.
The public hearing will be held at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26 in room 126 at 165 Capitol Ave. in Hartford.
Other states have more open-ended marijuana policies that give state regulators discretion in who gets approval. California allows medical marijuana for a number of specific conditions, as well as “any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person’s safety, physical, or mental health.”
Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have some sort of medical marijuana program.