The State of Medical Marijuana in Connecticut
2020 Grade: C+
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Connecticut’s program began with only 11 qualifying conditions but has expanded its list to a total of 27 conditions; six of which were added in 2019-2020. This list now includes chronic pain, an essential inclusion to combat opioid abuse.9 State officials expect the addition to double patient enrollment in the program in the coming years.10 Meanwhile Connecticut patients maintain the ability to demand new qualifying conditions via a petition to the state’s regulatory authority. While the need for expansion continues there are now 17 dispensaries serving patients across the Constitution State.11
While much of the state’s legislative efforts over the past two years have focused on adult-use legislation, ASA advises Connecticut state lawmakers and regulators to return focus to improving the state’s medical program. Patient access remains challenging, and ASA recommends that state and local leaders collaborate to reduce local licensing barriers that are preventing expansion of medical cannabis retail and the functionality of medical access overall in the state. Medical cannabis is as important to the treatment of cannabis patients as traditional pharmaceutical products are to treating the conditions for which they are effective and appropriate. As such cannabis patients require the same ease of access to medical cannabis retail outlets that pharmaceutical patients do to pharmacies, and state and local elected leaders should work to facilitate access parity for both facility types.
One policy improvement worth considering to bolster patient access is the licensing of delivery from regulated storefronts and depots, which is also common among pharmacies. While the state declared cannabis businesses essential during the COVID pandemic, authorized telehealth visits for patient registration renewals, and allowed for curbside pickup during the pandemic, ASA encourages Connecticut to consider organizing a pilot program for delivery during this time that could be expanded in 2021 if successful. The state should also consider allowing home cultivation for patients as a means to expand access and reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients. Two other areas that ASA recommends focusing improvements on are consumer safety standards and staff training.
In 2012, Connecticut became the 17th medical cannabis state with the signing of HB 5389, An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana. HB 5389 provides registered patients with protection from arrest when using or possessing up to a one-month supply of medical cannabis in accordance with the law and allows them to designate caregivers to assist them. Patients and caregivers registered with the Department of Consumer Protection may purchase medical cannabis from state-licensed dispensaries, but no personal cultivation is allowed. Final regulations were issued in 2013, and dispensaries began offering medicine to registered patients in September 2014, with six dispensaries opening throughout the state.
In 2016, three additional dispensaries were licensed and six new conditions were added to the program. That year the legislature also passed HB 5450, which allows minors to qualify for the medical cannabis program with some restrictions, creates protections for nurses to administer medical cannabis in health care facilities, and allows dispensaries to provide medical cannabis to medical facilities serving registered medical cannabis patients. A 2018 court case (Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC) reaffirmed employee rights for medical cannabis patients by clarifying that federal law does not preclude enforcement of a Connecticut law that prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who uses cannabis for medical purposes.
Some surveyed patients report feeling irritated about inconsistent product availability at dispensaries. Others are frustrated that it is still too expensive to be a medical cannabis patient as taxes on medical cannabis are too high. Surveyed patients hope that telehealth and curbside pickup will be available to them in the future.