Kids’ medical marijuana bill takes a step forward [Stamford Advocate]

April 8, 2015

Article as it appeared on StamfordAdvocate.com

HARTFORD — A bill that would allow children to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program advanced a step on Monday.

The bill, which is heading to the Senate, was approved after parents of children with a rare form of epilepsy appealed to the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee for permission to obtain the drug, which has been found to have anti-convulsive properties.

The legislation moved ahead with bipartisan support, but amid some objections, including an hour-long monologue by Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, one of the General Assembly’s biggest opponents of marijuana in recent years.

The state made medical marijuana legal in 2012, but prohibited doctors from prescribing the drug for those under 18 years old.

“There’s no question that this is a very serious move on the part of the Legislature,” Boucher said during the two-hour committee discussion in which she warned of “a dangerous path” on which lawmakers are heading.

“Our repeated attempts here to blur the line between the use of an addictive drug and the use of it as a medicine really undercut the goals of stopping the initiation of drug use, preventing addiction and promote really good health for our children,” she said. “We have a really serious drug problem in our country and it’s just getting worse. The brain is a very complex organ and we’re only now learning to understand how it works.”

Five Republican proposed amendments to the bill, including three by Boucher and one by Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, failed.

“I think it is going to be one of the more important things we do this year,” said Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the committee, a chief proponent of the bill. “I have my children foremost in mind when I make these remarks.”

He recalled a recent public hearing where parents of children with a rare form of epilepsy noted that kids in states that allow the use of medicinal cannabis have had sharp reductions in the frequency and seriousness of their seizures.

Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the committee, led Democrats against the GOP amendments, two of which would have limited the childhood use of medical marijuana products to oils. Coleman pointed out that most of the childhood epilepsy patients use that form.

Rep. Cecilia Buck Taylor, R-New Milford, said she was worried about the long-term effects of marijuana use.

“This is a difficult issue to face, especially after we had so many children who showed us that marijuana was helping them with their symptoms,” she said. “I am concerned that we are rushing into this without having the information.”

The debate before the vote was heated, with some calling the bill a license to let young people smoke pot.

“We continue to blur an important distinction between medicine and policy,” said Rep. John T. Shaban, R-Redding, who voted against the bill because legalizing marijuana flies in the face of federal law against it. “We blur the distinction between scientific progress and anecdotal stories and it’s for good reasons, because these are all laudable purposes.”

The bill, introduced by the state Department of Consumer Protection, which administers the medical-cannabis program, would also allow the state to promote research, license laboratories that test medical marijuana and allow hospices and hospitals to treat patients with marijuana.

Those under 18 would need to produce two letters from doctors, including a pediatrician and an expert in the ailment that a particular child claims. There are currently 11 diseases and ailments eligible for participation in the program, plus three more being drafted for inclusion after they were approved by the program’s Board of Physicians.

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