Know your rights and obligations

State Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris recently announced in February that he concurs with the recommendations of the Medical Marijuana Board of Physicians and will draft regulations that would add three new conditions to the existing list of eleven that currently qualify for palliative treatment with medical marijuana in Connecticut.

On January 14th, the marijuana program's Board of Physicians voted to recommend adding sickle cell disease, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery, to the list of qualifying conditions. The Board voted unanimously against adding Tourette's Syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system that produces involuntary tics and vocalizations.

"In light of the Board members' careful review and deliberation of the evidence involving the potential for marijuana to alleviate the pain, symptoms, and complications of these debilitating conditions, as well as the benefit of avoiding the negative effects associated with opioids, I have concluded that these medical conditions should be added to the list of debilitating medical conditions under the Act," Harris said today. "Accordingly, we will move forward immediately to promulgate a regulation to that effect."

The regulation review process will include a hearing and public comment period before the proposed regulation is sent to the Attorney General for review and then to the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee for the final vote needed to add the conditions to the regulations.

The four conditions reviewed by the Board of Physicians in January were the first to be considered for addition to the original list set out in statute. The conditions were presented to the Department of Consumer Protection in the form of written petitions that included specific, required information, including the extent to which the condition, or currently available treatment of the condition, causes severe or chronic pain, spasticity, or nausea, supporting evidence from professionally recognized sources, and letters in support of the petition from physicians or other licensed health care professionals knowledgeable about the condition, treatment or disease.

Public Act 12-55, An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana, was passed by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law on May 31, 2012. The Department of Consumer Protection was charged with developing the Connecticut Medical Marijuana Program, including establishing patient, physician, and caregiver eligibility guidelines and registration procedures, and establishing a secure, controlled, production and distribution network for medical marijuana in Connecticut.

Connecticut's Medical Marijuana Program was the first state medical marijuana program based squarely on the pharmaceutical/medical model--from physician certification, to production facilities operating as pharmaceutical manufacturers, to dispensing to patients by licensed pharmacists.

When followed, Connecticut's law protects registered patients from state and local arrest and prosecution for possessing marijuana for palliative use, as long as it is handled within the strict guidelines of the program. Registered, qualifying patients may possess a one-month supply of marijuana--currently set at 2.5 ounces -- unless the patient's doctor recommends less.

The original 11 medical conditions set forth in Public Act 12-55:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Cachexia
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
  • Wasting Syndrome
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A physician initiates their patient's access to this treatment by certifying that the patient is eligible for, and could benefit from, the palliative use of marijuana. Only Connecticut-licensed physicians with the appropriate state and federal controlled substance registrations may certify patients for medical marijuana. Doctor and patient must also have a bona fide relationship, in which the doctor has ongoing responsibility for the assessment, care and treatment of the patient's debilitating medical condition or symptom.

A year ago, on January 28th 2014, the Department was joined by Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and other officials to announce the four successful applicants for the state's first producer licenses. These four were chosen through a competitive and thorough application process. Today, Connecticut's four medical marijuana producers are all operational.

In April of 2014, six dispensary facilities were selected through an equally rigorous application process to legally dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana to registered patients. All six dispensaries are currently serving patients with marijuana products grown in Connecticut. Currently, more than 2,600 patients are registered for the use of medical marijuana in Connecticut.

"This program, which is regulated similar to that for pharmaceuticals, is improving the daily lives of Connecticut residents who have long suffered with chronic and debilitating illnesses," Commissioner Harris says. "Its positive impact on the lives of patients and their loved ones is something Connecticut can be proud of."

Employer Rights, Obiligations

Under Connecticut law, an employer may not deny employment to a worker solely because the person is qualified to use medical marijuana. However, employers may restrict employment or particular job assignments if federal law prohibits such work by someone using marijuana, and employers may continue to enforce workplace rules that prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours, including disciplining or firing an employee for being intoxicated while at work.

The Connecticut Employee Assistance Professionals Association has an upcoming program on June 18, 2015, "Medical Marijuana: Clearing the Smoke on Fact from Fiction" that will explore a wide range of issues related to Connecticut's Medical Marijuana Program, including perspectives of employers, health professionals, patients, and producers.

Thus far, Connecticut appears to have built a sound medical approach to use of medicinal marijuana. Nonetheless, employers would be wise to continue following the evolution of this law to sort through the fog of uncertainty as workers who are suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions but are still able to work are increasingly likely to apply for jobs or report to work.