Connecticut lawmakers voted on Tuesday to add chronic pain to the list of serious medical conditions that qualify an adult patient to use medical marijuana. The unanimous vote by the General Assembly’s Regulation Review Committee, which also adds the connective tissue disorders known as the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes to list, comes eight months after a panel of physicians recommended that the two conditions be included.
Members of the committee met via videoconference because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and voted in favor of the new regulations after only three minutes of discussion. With the vote, the new regulations will be forwarded to the office of Secretary of State Denise Merrill and immediately become law.
The regulations, which were recommended eight months ago by a board of physicians, were reviewed and rewritten by the state attorney general and the nonpartisan Legislative Commissioner’s office before being considered by lawmakers.
“The discussion about chronic pain has been informed and thoughtful,” said Michelle Seagull, the commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, in a written statement. “I am pleased that we have been able to hear from the public, and the board has been able to make recommendations that will give patients and the medical professionals who treat them more options for care.”
Seagull also noted that the addition of chronic pain and the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes to the state’s list of qualifying conditions would greatly increase the number of patients eligible to participate in the medical marijuana program. State regulators project that the number of registered patients could double from its current count of more than 41,000.
“Today’s addition to the list of qualifying conditions has the potential to lead to significant growth in the state’s program over a number of years, consistent with how the program has steadily grown in the past,” Seagull said.
Strict Rules To Qualify
While medical cannabis advocates applaud the addition of chronic pain to Connecticut’s list of qualifying conditions, some argue that the rules are too strict. To qualify, a patient’s pain must persist for at least six months and be resistant to other forms of treatment, which often includes the use of dangerous opiates. Karen O’Keefe, the director of state policies for the advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the regulations are “exceptionally restrictive.”
“Today’s addition of chronic pain to the medical cannabis program is a step forward, and will provide desperately needed relief to individuals living with debilitating pain,” said O’Keefe. “However, the narrow definition forces individuals to suffer for six months before qualifying, and steers them to more dangerous treatment options.”
The addition of chronic pain and the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes to the list of qualifying conditions for adults brings the total to 38 ailments, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma. Patients under the age of 18 may register as patients if they have one or more of 10 qualifying conditions, including cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, and terminal illness requiring end-of-life care.