Connecticut becomes 17th Medical Cannabis State: A Patient's Perspective

Safe access to medical cannabis became law in Connecticut today, when HB 5389 was signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy. The compassionate use bill will take effect on October 1st, 2012. Below is a perspective from a Connecticut patient who testified in support of the bill this Spring.

The Bumpy Road We Faced

I am proud to see medical cannabis legalized in my home state of Connecticut. The path to compassion was not an easy one - the bill's passage in the Senate was contentious. The vote came only after over 10 hours of debate, about 9 of which were entirely taken up by Senator Toni Boucher (R-143rd District), who made no one but Strom Thurmond's ghost happy with her marathon filibuster attempt, which was filled with "reefer madness" scare tactics, misinformation, and easily contradicted statistics. None of her 48(!) proposed amendments passed, the handful that were brought up were soundly rejected.

May 5, 2012 was a long day for me. Several friends, fellow advocates and I were home watching CT-N starting at 4pm sharp, when the Senate debate on the bill was supposed to begin (it officially began around 4:20pm, interestingly enough). It soon became clear that it would not be what time will the bill receive a vote, but what day. The first person to speak was the Judiciary Committee Chair, Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Hartford/Bloomfield/Windsor). The second was Deputy Minority Leader John Kissel (R-7th District). Both men heartily approved of the bill, making well known the positive implications of the bill far outweighed the negatives, and how the bill was about helping sick people, not turning healthy people sick.

I and a few other UConn students (and many, many more patients and safe access advocates) went and spoke in favor of this bill during the Judiciary Committee hearing this past March, and Coleman and Kissel were quick to vocalize their understanding of the challenges facing patients and their loved ones. Several other members of the committee spoke up in admirable and passionate support of the bill throughout the day, but Senators Kissel and Coleman engaged patients, including myself, in a way that I hope all patients experience when testifying at a committee hearing. I appreciate what they and others (Representative Fox-D, Rep Bacchiochi-R, and more) have done to aid their constituents more than they will ever know, and I will not soon forget it.

This Medicine Really Works Better Than Other Options

Living with a chronic disease, as I have lived with Crohn's disease for nearly my entire life, is no cakewalk. It ranks as the most difficult thing I've had to overcome in my life, and the pain and stress has been nothing but exacerbated by doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment, pill after prescribed pill (including dangerous opiates), all doing very little to help in the end to ease my symptoms. Cannabis brings back my appetite, relieves swelling and pain, regulates my sleep schedule, and provides a welcome respite from the stress all these maladies plus a typical contemporary college life have bestowed upon me. Is the bill perfect? No. Does cannabis absolutely cure my illness? No. Is the passage of this bill, and the subsequent freedom of CHOICE that myself and my doctors may now exercise to use medicine that truly helps a step in the right direction? The answer is a loud and unparalleled yes!

This is, in a nutshell, what I told the judiciary committee late that night in the Capitol. I can't speak for all of them, but they, as legislators spoke for us with their votes. The senate and house were somewhat divided, but the law is now clear: Medical cannabis is coming to Connecticut. Chronic pain, watch your back!

A Great Step Forward, But Improvements Are Necessary

Senator Boucher did manage to say one thing I'll concede to her when she boasted, "I could go on about this forever", which she said no less than four times over her 9-hour sprint-to-nowhere. It feels very surreal and unfortunate to know far more about cannabis than some of the legislators who are legislating our safe access to medical cannabis. It feels even stranger to see legislators deciding medical worth in any capacity, but thankfully my state was fortunate to have legislators pass a medical law.

This good fortune is not absolute, however, and improvements to the bill will need to be made. Patients should be able to grow their own medicine, children under 18 should not have to suffer when medical cannabis therapy is appropriate for them and parents grant informed consent, privacy and civil protections for patients should be improved, overly cautious regulations on dispensaries ought to be relaxed, and many more conditions should be permitted. But if recent legislation is any indication of the future, we may be headed in such a promising direction.

Sal Sodaro is a student and a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Connecticut.