California led the nation in allowing marijuana to be used for medical
purposes, but last month residents of Los Angeles said enough is enough.
Tired of a proliferation of lightly regulated marijuana dispensaries that made pot available to any "patient," voters approved a measure to drastically scale back the number of shops allowed -- to 135 from 805.
In Colorado, state officials had trouble keeping up with -- and collecting taxes from -- many of the 1,000-plus marijuana farms, while people who were not sick easily obtained pot registration cards. The widespread availability of medical cannabis accelerated the movement toward full legalization of the iconic weed, which was approved last year.
But as Connecticut officials craft regulations that will determine how its medical marijuana law will be implemented, they are eager to avoid pitfalls of some of the 18 other states plus Washington, D.C., that have approved it since California started the trend in 1996.
In advance of an August vote on the rules, state officials did their homework. They studied the law in states like Maine, where patients and caregivers can grow their own; Oregon, which allows possession of nearly a pound; and New Jersey, where just last week the Legislature passed a bill that would allow children to use medical marijuana.
And there are differences between East and West.
"Unlike Colorado and California, which pioneered marijuana growing, we do not see traditional stoners," said Chris Walsh, editor of the Medical Marijuana Business Daily, a Providence-based trade journal that monitors the new pot industry. "By nature of the regulations and the rules released so far, you're almost guaranteed to get professional people in there with connections and money. Your average Joe is not going to get involved unless he partners with guys with deep pockets."
Up from underground
The regulations being developed for the Nutmeg State are nearly 100 pages long and detailed enough to try managing an industry that has been underground for decades, while addressing public safety.
"No other state is viewing it the way we are," said Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein, whose office is charged with drafting the regulations and administering the program. "It's the design of the legislation. The idea was to make sure that people who have medical needs have access to medical marijuana, at the same time not diverting it away from medical use."
Ailments covered under the state's eligibility rules will include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, wasting syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other kinds of pain will not be covered, and patients will have to be at least 18 years old.
Instead of having heavy opiates like morphine and oxycodone confining them to bed, patients will be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of high-grade marijuana a month -- legally smoking, eating, inhaling vapors or applying skin salves -- to help overcome the pain of multiple sclerosis, or regain appetites curbed by chemotherapy. Marijuana candy and drinks will not be allowed.
There will be an as-yet-undetermined number of dispensaries, but each will have to be staffed by a pharmacist. The department will certify between three and 10
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