Connecticut lawmakers have approved it. Gov. Dannel Malloy plans to sign it into law. But it’s probably going to take at least a year before the first patient walks up to a pharmacist and is handed a dose of medical marijuana.
That’s the best estimate state officials have for when they’ll be able to get Connecticut’s new medical pot program up and running. Between now and then, a whole bunch of governmental, medical and business stuff has to happen.
To start with, the bill that got final General Assembly approval in the state Senate early Saturday morning (on a 21-13 vote) hasn’t even reached Malloy’s desk yet. The governor is all for the legislation, saying it will “provide relief to those with severe medical illnesses,” and he has every intention of signing it.
The trouble is that will only be the trigger for what’s likely to be a very complicated and potentially tricky sequence of events.
This legislation authorizes the state Department of Consumer Protection to create regulations governing everything from how much pot a medical patient can have at one time, to the number and size of growing operations. And you know that’s going to take time.
Once the regulations are created, there will need to be a public hearing, a legal check by the state Attorney General’s Office, and approval by the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee.
“I don’t have a time line in mind,” says Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein. He calls that one-year estimate for a fully operational pot program “an informed” projection.
Erik Williams, Connecticut director for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), wants it all ASAP, and he insists he’s not alone. “People want this to happen and they don’t want it held up like it has been in some states,” he says.
(Of course, the problems in some places have more to do with the federal government’s inconsistent and occasionally harsh anti-medical pot policies than with bureaucratic delays.)
The effective date of the new law, which is when patients are supposed to be able to apply for state medical marijuana permits, is Oct. 1. “They want to be ready to go [on that date],” Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice guy, says of state officials planning the medical pot system.
Rubenstein says one thing he wants to have in place even sooner, preferably by this summer, is the eight-member medical advisory board that’s going to decide a lot about the program.
These doctors will be responsible for, among other things, determining what a one month’s supply of medical marijuana actually is for individual patients. That’s how much pot a patient who’s received a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana can legally possess.
Lawlor says a person designated by the state as a “care-giver” who is helping a patient with his or her condition would also be protected from arrest or prosecution if found with a small amount of medical pot.
That “one-month supply” designation effectively means a medical marijuana patient or a care-giver would also be protected from prosecution if they were found to be growing their own pot, according to officials, as long as they aren’t violating that amount limitation. Williams cautiously says only that the new law “could be interpreted that way.”
“If you’re properly registered as a medical marijuana patient and you’ve got a recommendation from a doctor, you can’t be arrested or prosecuted as long as you have less than a one-month’s supply,” says Lawlor.
Rubenstein says he expects there will be doctors who will have no problem giving patients with serious medical problems marijuana recommendations and others who won’t want to be involved with it.
Once the regulations for pot producers are ready, those seeking to be commercial marijuana growers in Connecticut will be able to make their applications. The application alone will cost $25,000 and estimates of how much it would cost to build a secure growing facility (or renovate an existing building) start at $1.5 million.
Serious grower candidates are going to need some serious financial backing. Just operating a facility is going to be pricey: Williams says one Colorado grow operation he is familiar with spends $60,000 to $70,000 a month on electricity alone.
Rubenstein’s agency is authorized to license between three and ten growing facilities and how much pot each one will be able to grow.
A lot may depend on the number of patients who want to obtain pot for their medical conditions.