Connecticut Legislature to consider legalization and expanding medical program
Last update: April 25, 2016
Legislative history and background:
On June 1, 2012, Connecticut enacted a medical marijuana program that protects patients from arrest and prosecution if they have a valid registration card. However, the program does not allow minor patients to participate in the program. Of the 24 states that have effective medical marijuana programs, Connecticut is the only state that does not allow access for younger patients.
HB 5450 would expand the Connecticut program to allow minor patients with qualifying conditions and recommendations from their doctors to access medical marijuana. The bill would also allow dispensaries to provide medical marijuana to hospices and inpatient facilities and would allow nurses to administer marijuana in licensed health care facilities.
HB 5450 is currently awaiting action in the Senate. Ask your senator to support seriously ill children in Connecticut.
To learn more about the specifics of the Connecticut medical marijuana program, visit our state-by-state report.
On January 12, the Department of Consumer Protection approved three additional dispensaries — two in Milford and one in Waterbury — which will bring the total number to nine. The dispensaries could be open by June.
In February, the Connecticut General Assembly’s bipartisan Regulation Review Committee added six new conditions to the 11 already included in the state’s medical marijuana program.
After a recommendation from the Board of Physicians, State Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris offered the proposal to add seven conditions: Sickle cell disease, post laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, complex regional pain syndrome, and Fabry disease.
The committee rejected the addition of Fabry disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes severe pain and kidney failure, because of a lack of consensus within the Board of Physicians, who voted 2-2 on its inclusion. The Regulation Review Committee then voted 8-5 to approve the six other conditions.
While the program’s expansion is an important move, Connecticut’s law remains far more limited than most other medical marijuana states’ laws, as it fails to include a general category for intractable pain. As a result, tens of thousands of patients will continue to be steered toward more dangerous prescription painkillers.
Tax and regulate
On February 11, a group of Connecticut state representatives introduced HB 5236, legislation that would legalize the sale and use of marijuana for adults. While it is unlikely HB 5236 will pass during this year’s short session, garnering co-sponsors and holding a hearing this year will help build the foundation for passage down the road.
In addition to the four states and Washington D.C. that have already legalized adult use, several of Connecticut’s neighboring states are currently considering legalization, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island.
Decriminalization and prohibition
Legislative history and background:
Since 2011, possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana has been a civil violation in Connecticut, punishable by a fine of up to $150, meaning it is not a jailable offense. Subsequent offenses are subject to increased fines ranging from $200-$500. Upon a third violation, offenders are referred to a drug awareness program. Most importantly, those accused of being in possession are not saddled with criminal records, which can mark a person for life. In addition to the fine, anyone under 21 who is found in possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana faces a 60-day suspension of his or her driver’s license.
Although Connecticut has improved its marijuana laws in recent years, penalties still exist for adults in possession of a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. Data reported to the FBI by state law enforcement shows that in 2012, 85% of all marijuana-related arrests or citations were for possession. During the same period, over 76% of all reported rapes and 85% of all burglaries, including home invasions, went unsolved. Law enforcement should focus its resources and time on serious crime instead of pursuing people in possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Several positive bills were introduced in 2015. Rep. Edwin Vargas’s HB 6473 and Rep. Juan Candelaria’s HB 6703 would have each replaced Connecticut’s prohibition of marijuana with sensible regulations for adults’ use. 2016’s legislative session is a short one, and thus far no similar bills have been introduced. But, with Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont seriously considering replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation, change may be on the near horizon in Connecticut, too.
A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that a majority of voters in Connecticut support legalizing cannabis for adults. Fifty-two percent of all voters, and 80% of voters under 30 years old, support legalizing the possession of personal use amounts of marijuana for adults.
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Contact us: If you are a law enforcement official, a clergy member, a member of the legal community who supports regulating marijuana, or if you were arrested for simple possession of marijuana, please email [email protected] to see how you can be of special help. Be sure to include your zip code so we can determine who your legislators are.