Off of news that the state would be adding as many as three new medical cannabis dispensaries, 19 different groups have submitted proposals to be part of the potential expansion.
No details on who the applicants are or where the proposed dispensaries would be located have been released.
Many speculate they will be located in the more populated New Haven and Fairfield counties. Combined, the two counties account for over 50% of the state’s patient medical cannabis registrations, but only 2 of the 6 currently operating dispensaries are located there.
“We think we had a great response,” Jonathan Harris, the department’s commissioner, said.
“We have a healthy pool from which to do our analysis and make an appropriate selection of up to three.”
Harris continued, selection and approval of applicants will happen early next year and locations could open up for business in as early as June.
The state said these new locations will help meet the growing needs of a rapidly growing patient base, due to the expansion on the number of conditions the program covers.
As of Aug. 27, there were 5,357 registered medical cannabis patients in the state’s eight counties. New Haven has the largest number of patients at 1,399, followed by Fairfield, with 1,277.
Since the sale of medical cannabis began in Connecticut nearly a year ago, the number of registered patients has nearly quadrupled and is expected to eclipse 6,000 by end of the year.
Connecticut is one of 38 states that have approved the use of cannabis for the treatment of certain medical conditions. The state participates in what is called the Medical Marijuana Program, which requires both doctors and patients be registered and hold a certificate in order to dispense or use cannabis medicinally.
In order to qualify for the program, patients must be Connecticut residents who are 18 years of age or older and diagnosed with a qualifying illness.
In September 2014, there were 2,300 registered participants in the Medical Marijuana Program, but that number has risen steadily and currently sits at over 4,000. Despite the increase, it is estimated that the state’s dispensaries and manufacturers have the capacity to serve upwards of 20,000 individuals.
The number of registered participants will likely increase with proposed legislation that would add more medical conditions to the existing list. There are currently only 11 diagnoses that have received approval:
- HIV positive status or AIDS
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Nervous tissue damage of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
- Wasting syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- Post traumatic stress disorder
Oftentimes, those diagnosed with these conditions undergo significant medical intervention without full relief of symptoms. Many turn to cannabis to get relief from pain and other symptoms that cause severe discomfort.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the most well-known cannabinoids and is proven to reduce nausea and pain and stimulate appetite. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid which is effective at reducing seizures, inflammation and anxiety. Medical marijuana patient Norman Nadeau states he started using cannabis because:
“I wanted to get a better quality of life. I wanted to be myself again….It starts acting on my disability right away, and then it lasts for 2 or 3 hours.”
Jonathan Harris, the Consumer Protection Commissioner for the state, has announced recently that the agency is drafting regulations to add amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (often known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), Fabry disease and ulcerative colitis to that list.
All three conditions were reviewed and voted on by the Medical Marijuana Program’s Board of Physicians, which operates under the authority of the Department of Consumer Protection. Before being sent to the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee for a vote, there will likely be a public hearing and comment period as well as a review by the attorney general.
Other diseases such as sickle cell disease are farther along in the process of legalization, although no timeline is given for approval.
Recently, the Georgia legislature passed a law allowing very limited medical marijuana use in the state. The Haleigh’s Hope Act, which covers a short list of diseases and allows only CBD-rich cannabis oil to be used, offers hope to thousands of sufferers of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other ailments.
Connecticut is considering a similar law. Unlike Georgia, Connecticut already allows limited whole plant medical marijuana (although it does not permit home cultivation, it does provide safe access via dispensaries). Parents of epileptic children, however, typically prefer to avoid the medical cannabis available legally in the state, which sometimes sports a THC level as high as 27 percent.
Although there’s certainly a heavy stigma attached to THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric high that accompanies use of conventional street marijuana, it’s understandable that most parents would prefer a CBD cannabis oil containing virtually no THC (CBD oils typically have as little as 0.3 percent THC and produce no psychoactive effect).
Marijuana for Children
The Connecticut bill, House Bill 5892 (“An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana for Children”), has the sole purpose of helping children gain relief from life-threatening diseases like epilepsy and leukemia. Despite this — and recent media attention on the huge success of CBD treatment for epileptic children in Colorado and other parts of the country — this compassion bill faces opposition from multiple sources. Both Republican senator Toni Boucher and the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics have vocally opposed it.
Despite the fact that the bill would permit children to be treated only with CBD oil, which has been shown to produce stunningly effective results in many children throughout the country, “Reefer Madness” fears of brain damage from marijuana still persist.
According to Senator Boucher, via a recent press release:
“The brain is still developing when a child is young. Studies show these substances can alter adolescent development and can permanently damage the health and cognitive function of a child’s brain. Children can lose memory and have a total change in their brain development. There is very conclusive medical science around this.”
AAP Slings Prohibitionist Rhetoric
The Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has echoed Boucher’s statements, also exploiting the issue of childhood brain development and the false perception that a cannabis extract like CBD oil inevitably causes brain damage and developmental harm to children.
In an op-ed article for The Connecticut Mirror, AAP representative Dr. Sheryl Ryan wrote:
“Given the negative effects of marijuana on brain development, and cognitive performance and mental health disorders, we should not be recommending and supporting such laws.”
The AAP has gone as far as stating that it believes the use of CBD oil by epileptic and other sick children will increase recreational use of cannabis among all children. Due to the fact that recreational use of marijuana by teens is a cultural and social phenomenon and there is no physical addiction whatsoever, statements like this from the AAP are especially troublesome and preposterous.
Flagrant Disregard for Evidence
The frustrating part of this opposition is that it flagrantly disregards well-publicized examples of CBD efficacy, like that of Colorado resident Charlotte Figi, the nine-year-old girl who went from nearly 400 seizures a week to being 99.7 percent seizure free. This was accomplished with nothing more than a CBD oil extract derived from a special strain of cannabis produced by CW Botanicals, the Colorado company that developed the CBD-based Charlotte’s Web “hemp extract” product, naming it after the patient who inspired its development.
If opponents are successful and able to defeat this bill, parents who have tried literally every conventional pharmaceutical medication and treatment available, but have found no relief, will be relegated to criminals who must deal with the black market.
Politicians and leaders who oppose full recreational legalization of cannabis are one thing. However, influential voices of authority, like Dr. Ryan and Senator Boucher, who so boldly oppose a parent’s desperate effort to give relief to their very sick children, is another. Given what is known about CBD efficacy for childhood epilepsy alone, such actions may be viewed by future generations as obscenely ignorant in the best light and borderline sadistic in the worst.
House Bill 5892 currently resides in the Joint Committee on Public Health in the Connecticut legislature. Will reason, compassion, and science defeat the fear mongering and antiquated prohibitionist rhetoric being offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics and conservative politicians like Toni Boucher? Will the legislature see beyond outdated thinking that forces both children and their parents and caretakers to needlessly suffer?