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Medical Marijuana Hearing Draws Big Crowd

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File Photo Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Marijuana (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

By STEPHEN KALIN
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ There was standing room only and a spillover area at a public hearing on proposed regulations for Connecticut’s new medical marijuana law that was passed last year.

Potential investors from as far away as Colorado packed into two rooms at the state Department of Consumer Protection on Monday to voice concerns about the regulations’ potential effect on lawful marijuana producers and distributors.

The two most popular concerns among the business community came in response to proposed requirements for escrow accounts and brand naming.

The regulations stipulate that marijuana producers establish a $2 million escrow account or line of credit which the state could seize if the producer failed to maintain a timely and successful operation.

“I question if this is the best way to resolve the state’s concerns,” said David Kimmel, president of Vintage Foods, Ltd., a Conn.-based medical marijuana research and development operation.

He suggested that the loss of the investment itself was incentive enough for growers to meet their production obligations and that the additional expenditure on an escrow account would be counterproductive by making it that much more difficult for new ventures to succeed.

Nearly every potential investor at the hearing echoed Kimmel’s disapproval of the escrow requirement, citing the undue burden of locking up significant capital and exposing investors to excessive risk.

“Putting $2 million potentially in an escrow account is certainly a red flag and an invitation for potential illegal seizure action,” said Matt Cook, a consultant for Conn.-based Medtec Healthcare Solutions.

Some of those testifying suggested a reduction in the amount and the time the money must be held in escrow. Others urged that the escrow account be replaced by surety bonds which might be less vulnerable to seizure by federal authorities that consider marijuana production illegal regardless of state laws.

The other regulation that garnered widespread criticism would require the quantity of active ingredients in a product to be within three percent of the amount specified on the label. Potential investors protested that such a narrow range was prohibitively restrictive, given that parts of the same cannabis plant often contain very different quantities of the main chemical compounds.

The wide-ranging package of rules for the program also touches on the rights and responsibilities of medical marijuana dispensaries, security requirements for those dispensaries, and rules for manufacturing marijuana products.

Drug abuse activists on hand at the public hearing expressed their own concerns about the regulation, mostly related to the possible diversion of medical marijuana for recreational use and advertisements targeting youth.

John Davian, chairman of the Connecticut Marijuana Abuse Prevention Alliance, said that in states where medical marijuana is legal, access to the drug has increased and its perceived risk has decreased, leading to higher usage rates among young people.

“It’s important that we reduce mixed messages to our youth about the dangers of marijuana,” he said.

Davian urged the Department of Consumer Protection to restrict youth marketing practices, monitor excess quantities of marijuana, impose stricter security regulations and educate the public about the dangers of marijuana use and the side effects of using it as medicine.

Studies have shown that marijuana use is tied to mental illness as well as anxiety and depression, said Dana Pelliccio, a counselor at Guilford Youth and Family Services, in testimony at the hearing. She said the proposed regulations do not adequately address the public health risks of marijuana such as dependence, poor motor performance, and impaired cognitive and immune system functioning.

The Department of Consumer Protection is expected to submit the final regulations to the General Assembly by July 1.

One of those who hope to benefit from those regulations is Tracy Gamer-Fanning, who testified early on at Monday’s hearing. In an emotional testimony, she described her six-and-a-half year battle with brain cancer and the drugs that left her “isolated and sedated and alone and scared.”

Gamer-Fanning expressed her gratitude for an alternative medication, and said patients and doctors would follow the rules laid down by the Department of Consumer Protection.

“I promise you as a patient,” she said, “we will not let you down.”

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