By Ken Dixon
HARTFORD — It will either be a slowdown or showdown this week when a key legislative committee takes a deep breath and votes on the new regulations implementing Connecticut’s medical marijuana program.
Both Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein anticipate the eventual approval of the new rules by the 14-member Regulation Review Committee. Nonetheless, some members of the powerful committee are skeptical that the complicated rules safeguard enough against abuse.
If approved, the committee’s vote will be decisive and the state can prepare to start soliciting bids from would-be marijuana growers and dispensers.
Unlike most panels in the Democratic-dominated Legislature, the committee has equal membership between Democrats and Republicans. Four of the 14 committee members voted against medical marijuana in the House or Senate last year. On Tuesday, the committee, after closed-door party caucuses, will vote to either reject the regulations, approve them, or postpone action for a month.
Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Commissioner’s Office (LCO) told the committee that there were some minor issues of language in the 75 pages of proposed Department of Consumer Protection regulations and recommended delaying approval until the issues were addressed.
Rubenstein’s staff quickly changed the proposal to adopt the suggestions, which were approved by the LCO on Friday.
“I’m hopeful that they’ll pass these regulations,” Malloy said. “There is increasing amounts of evidence that there are medical benefits to the use of marijuana in certain cases. Obviously we’re not treating headaches with it.”
Malloy said he believes committee members are aware that the will of the General Assembly was to establish the program and their role now is to focus on the proposed rules.
The regulations include the creation of up to 10 grow facilities and an unspecified number of dispensaries run by licensed pharmacists.
The committee will have to change the state’s definition of marijuana from a Schedule I drug with no medical value, to a Schedule II medicine available through a doctor’s certification.
State Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the committee, agreed last week that the battle over medical marijuana was finished when the governor signed the bill in the spring of 2012.
“I think the important thing to know is that it was passed into law,” he said in a phone interview. “The regulations carry out what the law called for.”
The bill passed the House 96-51 and the Senate 21-13. Two Republicans on the Regulation Review Committee voted in favor, while five voted against it. Among the seven committee Democrats, four voted yes, two voted no and one wasn’t in office.
“The intent of the legislation is still good and I support it,” said Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, a first-year committee member who voted for the bill in 2012. “We knew it was in violation of federal regulations. What’s been interesting is how many other details there are.”
Federal law prohibits the possession, sale or distribution of marijuana.
She’s concerned that it may be difficult to measure the medicinal qualities of various strains of marijuana that would be grown in the state.
“I think the medical benefits for those who truly benefit from it makes it worthwhile, but we have to perform our due diligence,” Wood said.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, ranking member of the committee, said last week that he believes the committee should take its time and make sure the regulations are solid.
“I think there remain a lot of questions, although the policy argument is over,” he said in an interview. “Now we have to look at the regs for the implementation of the policy so that it complies with federal law.”
Fasano, who voted against the legislation last year, said that the enforcement of contracts, measurements of active ingredients and other issues are troubling.
“It seems to me that these regulations are dicey at best,” he said.
Attorney General George Jepsen discounted such criticism, saying the adoption of the new regulations is within the state’s power.
Rubenstein, the DCP commissioner who has closely supervised the drafting of the regulations and presided over a day-long public hearing in April on the program, said Connecticut’s medical marijuana law will stand out in the nation.
“The committee has questions about nuts and bolts of the regulations and we’re prepared to discuss them,” he said in an interview. “I think the regs put together are not only the best in the country, but the tightest, best for patients and the public in the abstract, as well as comprehensive and well thought out.”
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