Connecticut Begins Registering Medical Marijuana Patients

Connecticut became the 17th and most recent state to legalize medical marijuana when Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the bill earlier this year; now, just four months later, patients can register for the state-run program. But they’ll need a bit more patience if they want to buy their medicine on the up-and-up.

While a valid patient registration immediately protects patients from arrest or prosecution over possession of up to two and a half ounces of marijuana, Connecticut is still putting together its network of growers and dispensaries. They don’t expect to be finished before next year, so in the meantime, registered patients who want to medicate will need to find their marijuana on the black market. Those sales are illegal regardless of whether the purchaser is a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, which may make doctors hesitant to prescribe it in 2012.

“Lots of doctors won’t want to recommend marijuana to a patient if they know they’ll have to get it from the black market,” said Erik Williams, Executive Director of Connecticut NORML, a marijuana law reform advocacy group. “Once the state has dispensaries in place and patients can obtain it legally, I think physicians will be much more willing to prescribe it.”

Connecticut residents who are 18 or older and think they may be candidates for medical marijuana should begin by checking the list of approved diseases and conditions. Physicians can only prescribe marijuana for conditions on this list, which may eventually be expanded, based on the recommendation of a board of eight state-appointed physicians. The board, which currently has only three appointees, was created to advise Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the medical marijuana program.

Erik Williams

The approved conditions currently include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s Disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If a patient has an approved condition and his or her physician feels that medical marijuana could be an effective treatment, the physician must certify the patient with the Department of Consumer Protection and initiate the registration process. Patients and their caregivers can then complete the registration process themselves, after which they will receive identification cards that they can show to law enforcement and, eventually, to dispensaries throughout the state.

 

‘Most Restrictive System in the Country’

The Department of Consumer Protection will watch out for doctors who over-prescribe medical marijuana using their existing Prescription Monitoring Program. This is an effort to avoid so-called “pot docs” — doctors who will write a marijuana prescription to virtually anyone — who have attracted law enforcement’s attention in California and other medical marijuana states.

Gov. Dannel Malloy

As we’ve reported on Lawyers.com, Connecticut’s law was deliberately written as one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the nation, a move designed to help avoid some of the troubles that have befallen California, where the statues are written more loosely. U.S. Attorneys in California have cracked down hard on the medical marijuana community for the past year, authorizing frequent raids and sending threatening letters to landlords, financial institutions and other entities that do business with dispensaries and growing operations.

U.S. Attorneys could still crack down on Connecticut’s medical marijuana program under federal law, but the program’s supporters hope that the relatively conservative framework will convince the feds to make them a low enforcement priority.

Michael Lawlor, criminal justice advisor to Gov. Malloy, told the Associated Press that “Connecticut clearly will have the tightest, most restrictive system in the country.”

What do you think about making medical marijuana programs more restrictive to avoid attention from the feds? Let us know in the comments section below.

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