Patients, concerned child advocates and prospective growers jammed a public hearing on proposed medical-marijuana regulations Monday to comment on the rules before they get shipped to the legislature in July.
Some of the would-be marijuana growers had no experience; others were old hands from states like Colorado. Most said they had no problem putting up the $2 million that will be required to serve a total patient population that could grow to 50,000 when the program is at full tilt in a couple of years.
Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, who ran the hearing Monday, will ultimately recommend between 3-10 growers and a separate group of licensed dispensers. They all must be Connecticut based, so folks like Meg Sanders, the CEO at Gaia, a Colorado grower and dispenser, has linked up with Erik Williams, head of the Connecticut chapter of the national marijuana-rights group NORML, to form Gaia Connecticut.
Thomas Macre, sales manager for MedTech, an Orange-based seller of medical equipment to chronic-pain patients, has never grown marijuana before. But he said he’s ready to hire “the best grower in the country and put botanists on staff,” and he came to Monday’s hearing with medical-marijuana consultant Matt D. Cook, who wrote the regulations in Colorado.
Testimony from patients such as Tracey Gamer Fanning pulled everyone in the overflow crowd back to the reason the legislature finally passed a medical-marijuana law last year.
Gamer Fanning, 42, was given three to five years to live when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 36.
Six and a half years later, the head of the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance said her mission now is to blow away any remaining stigma attached to the use of medical marijuana.
She said she tried one medicine after another to try to control paralyzing headaches and other symptoms. Nothing helped – until she smoked marijuana obtained “through people who were helping people who were sick.”
She said the relief was immediate. She said the drug allowed her to get out of bed every day and have a life again. The former broadcaster and advertising sales executive said her priorities now are her children and step children – she got married Saturday to Greg Shimer, a friend who came back into her life after she was diagnosed – and her mission as a patient advocate. She is an unpaid board member of Vintage Foods Ltd., a company that expects to bid to be a grower in Connecticut.
“I don’t want to be known as ‘that brain-cancer patient,’ ” she said after her testimony Monday. “I want to be ‘that mother who makes a mean chocolate-chip cookie.’ I want to be Tracey again.”
Catherine Barden, who works with child-advocacy and anti-substance abuse groups in Connecticut, said she wants to make sure “patients who need medical marijuana are the only ones getting it.”
“We see medical marijuana in some states being marketed in lollipops and candies – and that makes it harder for children to understand that this is a drug that can be abused,” Barden said. “The law’s in place here, so let’s all work together to make sure it’s tightly regulated. I think we all want that.”
Gamer Fanning said if her two children saw people smoking marijuana at a party, “they’d probably say, ‘why are people using mommy’s brain-cancer medicine? ‘ ”
Sanders, the CEO of Gaia of Colorado, said she believes some of the proposed regulations should be loosened, such as those allowing very little chemical variance between batches of medicinal marijuana, and rules on the frequency of product testing. But Rubenstein has told the legislature that Connecticut will have one of the most highly regulated programs of the 17 states that have passed medical-marijuana laws.
Rubenstein said about 450 patients have been certified by their doctors to receive medical marijuana and about 300 of them have registered with the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Colorado’s program started with 1,100 registered patients and grew to 102,000 in a matter of months, said Macre, of MedTech. He said Connecticut could peak at about half that number, particularly if chronic pain is added to the current list of 11 eligible diseases.
Williams, of Gaia Connecticut, agreed that the potential market here is about 1.5 percent of the state’s population, or about 52,500 patients.
Cultivation and possession of marijuana are still illegal under federal law, “but we think we can co-exist with the federal government, with the way our statute is written,” Rubenstein said.
However, banks, which are federally insured, have refused to accept escrow funds from growers in Colorado and elsewhere, said Cook, the consultant. He said Connecticut could solve the problem by substituting an escrow account at a bank for a performance or surety bond that Rubenstein’s department would hold.