Connecticut expands medical cannabis program to include chronic pain; legalization efforts continue
Last update: June 22, 2020
On June 2, the Connecticut Legislative Regulations Review Committee approved allowing medical cannabis to treat chronic pain — although it narrowly defined the term. The Board of Physicians recommended adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition on September 27, 2019. Previously, Connecticut was the only state medical marijuana program that did not permit patients to treat chronic pain with medical marijuana.
The revision permits medical marijuana to be recommended for adults with “chronic pain of at least six months duration associated with a specific underlying chronic condition refractory to other treatment intervention.” Unfortunately, that narrow definition means physicians can only recommend cannabis to patients who have sought treatment for their chronic pain for at least six months and whose pain has been resistant to other treatments.
The committee also approved the use of medical marijuana to treat Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an inherited disorder that weakens the body’s connective tissue and leads to weakened blood vessels and organs.
While these revisions undoubtedly expand patients’ ability to use medical marijuana to treat their aliments, Connecticut will have one of the most restrictive chronic pain provisions in the country. Patients will have to suffer for months before trying cannabis and will first be steered to far more dangerous medications.
Earlier this year, a bill to allow any adult, 21 or older, to use cannabis stalled due to a COVID-related closure of the capitol. It’s our hope that the Connecticut Legislature takes up the issue of adult-use cannabis in a special session this year or during the 2021 regular session. Many individuals who suffer from conditions that can be treated with marijuana aren’t able to access medical marijuana cards. In addition, no adult should be penalized for using substance that is safer than alcohol.
On March 12, legislative leaders ordered the Capitol and Legislative Office Building closed until March 30. On March 23, leaders reassessed the situation and decided to keep the buildings closed until April 13. Legislative leaders and committee chairs continue to prioritize and analyze bills in anticipation of session resuming. MPP and the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana will continue to encourage the legislature to pass legalization and regulation this year.
Along with several allies, MPP is also urging law enforcement to halt cannabis arrests and release cannabis prisoners in light of COVID-19. Several law enforcement personnel, prisoners, and guards have contracted the novel coronavirus. The more interactions between law enforcement and civilians, and the more incarcerated inmates, the more opportunities for transmission of the virus.
Governor’s bill to end prohibition receives public hearing
On March 2, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on legislation that would end prohibition and regulate marijuana for adult use in Connecticut.
In February, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D) and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) introduced Governor’s Bill No. 16, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one and a half ounces of cannabis from licensed retailers. A summary of the marijuana regulation bill can be found here.
Prior to the hearing, the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana joined together with veterans, civil rights activists, clergy, law enforcement, healthcare professionals, minority business advocates, economists, social workers, state leaders, and legislators to voice support for action on the governor’s bill and stayed to testify at the public hearing. MPP’s testimony can be found here. The deadline for moving the bill out of committee is March 30, but that is expected to be extended in light of the pause in the legislative session.
Governor and legislative leaders push to end cannabis prohibition in 2020
In March and April 2019, three legislative committees advanced bills to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis, but the legislature adjourned on June 5 without bringing them to a vote.
During Gov. Ned Lamont’s State of the State address on February 5, he remarked, “We just marked the 100th anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out?”
Gov. Lamont called for a coordinated regional approach to marijuana regulation to protect public heath and to “right the wrongs of a war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted our minority communities.” His budget includes new staff to prepare for legal sales in 2022. A summary of Gov. Lamont's proposed cannabis regulation bill is available here.
The MPP-led Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana made it very close to the finish line in 2019 and will work to finish the job in 2020. We’re very grateful to Adam Wood for his excellent work leading the coalition and to our lobbying team, led by Julie Cammarata.
MPP, Regulate Connecticut, and its member organizations will continue to inform Connecticut residents about opportunities to support reform efforts. For regular updates, please follow the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana on Facebook and Twitter.
Connecticut’s medical marijuana program was originally enacted on June 1, 2012. The program protects patients and caregivers from arrest and prosecution if they have a valid registration card and if the medical marijuana was obtained from the specific dispensary where the patient is registered.
In 2016, both regulators and lawmakers expanded Connecticut’s medical marijuana program.
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. 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, adults are still being punished for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, while most crimes with victims go unsolved.
Volunteer: To take your involvement a step further, volunteer! Let us know if you’re up for tabling, writing a letter-to-the-editor, phone banking, or otherwise getting more involved. We’re also looking influential voices in the debate — please be sure to fill out the form and let us know if you are a supportive member of clergy, law enforcement, educator, medical or substance abuse professional, veteran, or a person who was harmed by cannabis prohibition.