Medical Marijuana Rules Approved, Program Can Now Move Forward

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Connecticut’s new medical marijuana program will move forward now that regulations governing the system were approved by a key legislative committee in a voice vote Tuesday afternoon.

The vote, by the regulations review committee, clears the way for the state to seek applications for marijuana growers and sellers. William Rubenstein, consumer protection commissioner, said he expects that producers and dispensaries will be up and running by spring or early summer next year.

To qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes, a patient must be diagnosed with one of the following debilitating medical conditions: 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 or post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Consumer Protection can add other medical conditions to the list, in consultation with a state-appointed, eight-member board of physicians.

The patient would receive certification from a physician and register with consumer protection. The state then would check that the patient meets other qualifications — that he or she is at least 18, is not a prison inmate and is a Connecticut resident.

The only way certified patients will legally obtain marijuana is through a state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary. The state will issue dispensary licenses only to Connecticut-certified pharmacists. If the regulations are approved, Rubenstein said, his department will set a maximum number of dispensaries that can be licensed.

Under the law, patients cannot grow marijuana themselves or purchase it from out-of-state dispensaries.

To be licensed to grow marijuana and produce medical marijuana products, applicants must put $2 million in escrow with the state, which will be gradually reduced over five years as the licensee hits certain milestones. Producers also will have to pay a $25,000 application fee and a $75,000 license fee. (The application fee for a dispensary facility permit will be $1,000, plus an additional $5,000 upon approval.)

The state will decide how many producers will receive licenses — at least three but no more than 10 — as well as the number of dispensaries based on how many patients they expect to qualify for medical marijuana use. As of last month, more than 700 patients had registered, but Erik Williams, COO of Biltin Advanced Propagation, a company that plans to apply for a production license and open a facility in New Britain, cautioned against reading too much into that figure.

“I’ve talked to a dozen doctors about that,” he said. “Doctors clearly see medical marijuana as a choice for patients, but there’s clearly a hesitancy for doctors to recommend it now. Once doctors and patients see there’s a safe means to obtain medical marijuana, more patients will register.”

Federal law, which continues to list marijuana as an illegal substance, also has made some investors skittish.

“It’s certainly a concern with investors,” said Ethan Ruby, who hopes to open a production facility in Watertown. He said he was able to line up enough backers for him to go forward and apply. On the other hand, the federal law has made it easier for investors to get in on the ground floor of the industry, he said. If the U.S. government declared medical marijuana legal, the competition to get in on the action would be fierce, and a lot costlier.

Story by William Weir, The Hartford Courant

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