By Gregory B. Hladky
12:35 PM EDT, September 18, 2012
This Oct. 1 could be nicknamed "Medical Marijuana Day" in Connecticut.
That's when Connecticut residents can actually start applying to have the legal right to use pot for medical purposes in this state.
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection already has instructions about how to apply on its website. That way, prospective patients and their doctors (a doctor's recommendation is going to be key) can be ready to rock and roll as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, there's still no way to legally buy medical pot or obtain the seeds to grow your own in this state. Connecticut officials say they hope to have that part of the program figured out sometime in 2013.
"We're trying to build a model that makes the most sense," says state Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein. "Our goal is to do it at the earliest possible time so we can get a production and distribution system up and running."
The delay in licensing and getting regulations set up for patients to legally buy pot could be considered somewhat academic.
It's pretty easy to buy marijuana in Connecticut, whether it's grown here or imported. Possession of small amounts has already been decriminalized, and nobody who's really using pot to treat a serious illness is being arrested and prosecuted in this state.
Connecticut patients with serious medical conditions have even repeatedly testified at state legislative hearings about their use of marijuana without ever being arrested. But activists say many people with severe problems won't use marijuana because it's still illegal.
The medical pot law passed by the General Assembly this year was designed to avoid the sort of freewheeling marijuana distribution systems set up in states like California.
Rubenstein says a large part of the Connecticut preparation effort has been researching "what other states have done, by good example or bad example."
Connecticut's law limits the use of pot for medical purposes to a specific list of conditions, including cancer; glaucoma; positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Parkinson's disease; multiple sclerosis; and damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.
Also covered by the law are epilepsy, cachexia (also called wasting syndrome), Crohn's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The law requires a patient to have a physician's authorization, and the consumer protection agency has set up an online system to register with the state. A patient must make an appointment with his or her doctor, provide identification, an email address, proof of residency in this state, and photographs as you would for a passport.
Rubenstein says that, once the state has the proper registration information, "We will be in position to mail out registration cards within days." He adds that the state will have a system to handle requests from people "on the other side of the digital divide" who don't have access to the Internet.
Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel Malloy's top criminal justice adviser, says certification by the state will mean a medical patient could "lawfully possess up to one month's supply of marijuana." Such a supply is expected to be approximately 2.5 ounces.
Connecticut's medical pot law will require the state to have a regulatory system in place by next July to govern a system of up to 10 growing facilities and a distribution program through licensed pharmacies.
Rubenstein says his agency expects to have those regulations ready well before that date, and has already been contacted by a slew of companies and individuals looking to get into the medical pot business in Connecticut.
As Connecticut continues down the medical-marijuana road already taken by 16 other states, the issue has been making news on the presidential campaign front. But not necessarily in a good way for the Republican ticket.
The guy at the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney, is opposed to medical pot because he says it's "designed to help get marijuana out into the public marketplace and ultimately lead to the legalization of marijuana overall. And in my view, that's the wrong way to go."
Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, told a Colorado TV interviewer that he believes the best course is "to let the states decide what they want to do with these things."
You might think that difference of opinion might give Democrat Barack Obama a political opening, except that his administration has taken a very inconsistent attitude toward state-approved medical pot. Federal officials this year launched a series of raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in places like California and Oregon and have issued warnings that have made states like Rhode Island nervous about going ahead with their plans for a medical marijuana program.
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