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Medical Marijuana: How Would The Law Work?

By NANCY SCHOEFFLER,The Hartford Courant

Last Wednesday the Connecticut House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana. The legislation still awaits action in the Senate and would have to be signed by the governor to become law. While we wait for the next step, we answer some common questions people have about the legalization of medical marijuana.

Q. Who would be eligible to use medical marijuana, if the proposed legislation becomes law?

A. To qualify, a patient would need to be certified by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition — cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome,Crohn’s disease orpost-traumatic stress disorder — or any medical condition, medical treatment or disease approved by the Department of Consumer Protection and a Board of Physicians that would be established. Patients would have to be at least 18. Prison inmates could not qualify, regardless of their medical condition.

Q. What about other medical conditions for which patients could benefit from medical marijuana?

A. An eight-member Board of Physicians would be established, including physicians and surgeons who are board-certified in one of the following specialties: neurology, pain medicine, pain management, medical oncology, psychiatry, infectious disease, family medicine or gynecology. The board would be able to determine additional medical conditions, medical treatments or diseases that qualify for palliative use of marijuana. A process to petition the board and to comment on additions under consideration would be established.

Q. How would patients obtain medically approved marijuana?

A. Marijuana would be dispensed only by pharmacists specifically licensed to dispense it to patients with a certificate from a physician. A qualifying patient and his or her primary caregiver would be required to register with the Department of Consumer Protection. A primary caregiver who has ever been convicted of violating any law pertaining to a controlled substance would not be permitted to register.

Q. What would a physician have to do to prescribe marijuana?

A. The physician would be required to make a medically reasonable assessment that it would be in the patient’s best interest, based on the patient’s medical history and medical condition, in the course of a bona fide physician-patient relationship. The physician who diagnosed the qualifying patient also would have to explain the potential risks and benefits of palliative marijuana to the patient or, if the patient lacks legal capacity, to the patient’s parent, guardian or other legal custodian. Physicians could not have any financial interest in a pharmacy licensed to dispense marijuana.

Q. Would every pharmacy in the state dispense medical marijuana?

A. No. Licensed pharmacies would need to obtain a dispensary license from the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection. The commissioner would determine the maximum number of licenses appropriate to meet the needs of qualifying patients in the state. The commissioner also would develop regulations on how often pharmacies would have to renew their dispensary licenses (at least every two years), licensing fees and areas where dispensaries could not be located, based on the criteria governing the location of retail liquor premises.

Q. Who would grow the marijuana?

A. The consumer protection commissioner would license producers to cultivate marijuana and distribute it within the state. At any one time, the number of licensed producers would have to be at least three and not more than 10. Producers would have to pay a nonrefundable application fee of at least $25,000 for a producer license, and licenses would have to be renewed at least every five years. Producers would have to demonstrate that they could grow pharmaceutical-grade marijuana in a secure indoor facility and also have the ability to prevent diversion or theft of the marijuana they grow.

Q. Would patients be permitted to grow their own marijuana?

A. No.

Q. Would patients be able to use medical marijuana anywhere?

A. No. The law would prohibit ingesting marijuana in a bus, a school bus or any moving vehicle; in the workplace; on any school grounds or any public or private school, dormitory, college or university property; in any public place; or in the presence of anyone under 18. It also would prohibit any use of palliative marijuana that endangers the health or well-being of another person, other than the patient or primary caregiver.

Q. How much marijuana could a patient have on hand?

A. No more than a one-month supply.

Q. Could a landlord refuse to rent to someone or take action against a tenant because the tenant uses medical marijuana?

A. No.

Q. Could a school refuse to enroll someone because the person qualifies to use medical marijuana?

A. No.

Q. Could an employer decide not to hire someone or decide to fire that person because the person uses medical marijuana?

A. No.

Q. What are the main arguments against the bill?

A. The Connecticut Medical Society contends that more research is needed to adequately determine how well medical marijuana works. It also cites concerns about quality control and standardization, as well as contamination with pesticides and microbes, and argues that patients cannot be assured a reliable and reproducible dose. U.S. Attorney David Fein says the state law would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacture and trafficking of controlled substances. Fein said theU.S. Justice Department would not focus on seriously ill individuals who use marijuana, but that it would pursue growing facilities and dispensaries that would be violating federal law. The legislation’s opponents also say that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that legalizing its use would send the wrong message to young people.

Q. Is this the first time Connecticut legislators have tried to pass a medical marijuana bill?

A. No. Lawmakers passed a medical marijuana bill in 2007, but Gov.M. Jodi Rell vetoed it. Last year, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy backed a medical marijuana bill that would have allowed qualifying patients to grow their own marijuana for medicinal use but it failed to become law, although lawmakers did approve the decriminalization of a small amount of marijuana.

Q. Where does the proposed law stand at this point?

A. Late last Wednesday the House approved the measure 91-56. It still awaits action in the Senate. If Gov.Dannel P. Malloy then signs the bill, it would take effect Oct. 1, 2012. Provisions on registering patients, caregivers, pharmacies and producers and on establishing a Board of Physicians would take effect immediately.

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