Connecticut Changing its “Tone” on Marijuana

As of December 15, Massachusetts has legalized marijuana for recreational use and cultivation. However, many of the Commonwealth’s neighboring states only see cannabis as medicinal, at best. Because of the close proximity of states in the New England region, surrounding states have a history of adopting certain laws from each other to avoid the loss of tax revenue and already-scarce tourism dollars.

For example, in my early-20s as a Connecticut resident living 15 minutes from the Massachusetts border, I frequently drove 10 miles north to legally buy alcohol because of the archaic “blue law” restrictions in Connecticut. The blue laws were prohibition-era statutes that dictated when and where individuals could buy alcohol. Some of the more notorious blue laws included outlawing alcohol sales on Sundays and any day after 9 PM. It should be noted that Connecticut finally came to their senses in recent years and drastically modified their blue laws, and according to at least one of the state’s elected officials, they should be doing the same with regards to cannabis.

This politician wants Connecticut to follow in Massachusetts’ footsteps towards full legalization, and he’s been vocal about it for a few years. New Haven State Representative Juan Candelaria (D) has been pushing for recreational reform to Connecticut’s cannabis laws for three legislative sessions now, but he has yet to get even a public hearing on the matter.

“The tone has changed since Massachusetts have passed their referendum,” explained Candelaria. “So I think it is an opportunity [for]Connecticut to move forward with this legislation. If we really want to tackle the issue I think we can have legalization ready to go by the end of the fiscal year.”

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has remained mostly steadfast in his reluctance to go further than medical.

“Going from decriminalization and recognizing the medical benefits of marijuana to, in essence, endorse marijuana is a very different proposition and I don’t endorse the use of marijuana,” said Malloy.

One early estimate states that Connecticut could haul in roughly $50 million the first year if they allow recreational sales, but Governor Malloy isn’t very confident in guesswork. Malloy has said these estimates don’t take into account that Connecticut would have to match or beat Massachusetts’ relatively low 10% tax rate on cannabis sales.

“I suspect that the money that will be generated in Massachusetts will not pay for the programs necessary to treat the people who will become problematic,” said Malloy.

While Connecticut may be behind the times on the recreational side of things, the Constitution State remains on the forefront in terms of medical marijuana research. State officials have recently announced two groundbreaking new cannabis studies, one of which has federal backing and support — believe it or not.

Last week, Connecticut’s first medical marijuana research trial was approved and subsequently announced to the public. The study will attempt to determine whether or not marijuana could replace or supplement opioid painkillers in the future, drastically reducing the risk of dependency and other dangerous side effects including overdose fatalities. The doctors involved think the research could lay the groundwork for immense change and help the state fight its devastating opiate overdose crisis. The trial will be conducted at Hartford’s Saint Francis Hospital and will compare the effectiveness of medical marijuana in comparison to the oft-prescribed oxycodone when being used to treat intense-immediate pain and long-term chronic pain among patients with rib fractures.

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Blumenthal and Malloy / Zimbio

“Here’s a substance that will give us adequate pain control but, at the same time, will probably reduce our use and dependence and, therefore abuse, of opiate pain medications,” said Dr. James Feeney, Saint Francis Director of Trauma Services, in an interview Friday. “Medical marijuana has the potential to change the way we treat acute and chronic pain. We believe this will help to end the opiate epidemic in Connecticut and maybe America.”

Then yesterday, Governor Malloy and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal held a news conference to announce a second study would be taking place at The Connecticut Hospice, the oldest facility of its kind in the nation. The study aims to improve painkilling techniques while simultaneously increasing quality of life for patients who are nearing the end of their journies. The federally-approved trial will include 66 as-yet-unenrolled patients at the hospice, which will help to answer the question of whether or not medical marijuana pills could replace the existing opioid treatments for pain. Most patients at the facility are prescribed opiate painkillers, and due to the worsening nature of their conditions, usually take an increasingly high dosage the longer they stay.

“Connecticut Hospice has the vision trying to better fulfill their mission in palliative care and symptom control to improve the quality of life with limited time but it’s still very important. Everybody deserves to die with dignity,” said Dr. Wen-Jen Hwu, the Chairman of The Connecticut Hospice Professional Advisory Committee.

“It’s about pain management at the end of life or during medical procedures,” added Sen. Blumenthal, “And that can transform the quality of life for people undergoing medical procedures no matter how serious or at what stage — and it can reduce the costs of health care.”

Cover Image Courtesy of the Hartford Courant

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