The Public Health Committee Monday afternoon sent a bill approving use of medical marijuana by children under the age of 18 to the House.

The 21-7 approval of the bill came after many members of the committee stated they weren’t sanctioning the use of marijuana, but allowing parents and their doctors to consider it as an option for medical treatment.

The bill would give minors with severe epilepsy and terminal illnesses access to non-smokeable marijuana, but only with parental consent and the approval of two doctors.

The other conditions included in the bill include cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, uncontrolled intractable seizure disorders, or irreversible spinal cord injury with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.

Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said: “We all know this is an emotional issue. It’s easy to say the legislature is giving kids marijuana.”

However, he said what they are doing is giving physicians and parents an “option.”
Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said he is “wholeheartedly” supporting the legislation.

“I like the fact that the marijuana to be used is only in liquid form,” Betts said. “Plus, I, too, want to stress that we are only voting for this to be an option — not a requirement.”

Not everyone was in favor of the legislation, however.

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said his constituents lobbied him to vote against the legislation, so he did. “They felt like passing this law would encourage young people to experiment with marijuana,” Markley said.

Many committee members said they were swayed by the powerful testimony they heard during a public hearing a few weeks ago.

Susan Meehan, whose 13-year-old daughter Cyndemae died earlier this month, was one of those who testified in front of the committee.

Cyndemae had Dravet syndrome and had daily seizures until the family discovered cannabis oil, Meehan told the Public Health Committee. Meehan said she had to move to Maine in order to legally obtain her daughter’s medication.

Connecticut legalized medical marijuana in 2012. There are nine dispensaries in the state serving more than 9,400 registered patients.

Sen. Terry Gerratana, who co-chairs the committee, said she hopes the legislature does the right thing this year and “moves with the times.”

A similar bill made it through the committee process last year, but failed to get raised for a vote in the House or the Senate.

But this year is different.

This year’s bill has the backing of the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a national organization that opposes medical marijuana for children.

Sandi Carbonari, the immediate past president of the Connecticut chapter of the AAP, said the national organization opposes the legislation because “there are currently no published studies on the efficacy of marijuana as a medication in children.”

However, “we in Connecticut recognize the potential for use in cases of children with terminal illness or debilitating conditions such as intractable seizure disorders that do not respond to traditional treatment modalities,” Carbonari testified.

Dr. William Zempsky, head of the division of pain and palliative medicine at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, told the committee in his written testimony that there’s more research to be done, but it has “become clear to me that there are some of our most vulnerable patients who would truly benefit from the use of medical marijuana.”

Connecticut is the only state with a medical marijuana program that doesn’t give access to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.