HARTFORD - After nearly four hours of debate and eight failed Republican amendments that would have changed the state’s medical-marijuana program, the Senate voted 23-11 late Friday to allow seriously ill children to participate.
For Dana Haddox-Wright, whose daughter battles daily seizures, the vote meant hope and perhaps future medical breakthroughs.
The bill, which previously won approval in the House, goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for final review.
If signed into law, the legislation would let parents and guardians, with the authorization of two physicians, give their children liquid or edible forms of the drug. Medicinal cannabis has been found to help children with epilepsy and neurological disorders that cause seizures.
Haddox-Wright, a Wilton analytics consultant, said the vote culminated years of contact with lawmakers, telling them about her now 6-year-old daughter Ella, who suffers from Dravet syndrome, which causes extreme seizures and pharmaceuticals that dull her.
Haddox-Wright said she and a support group of parents whose kids also have the disease, watched the debate all night on TV, until the vote just before midnight on the legislation known as House Bill 5450.
“I, along with other parents were holding our collective breath as we watched the discussion,” she told Hearst Connecticut Media late Friday. “The passage of Bill 5450 means a great deal to the parents of very ill and medically fragile children in our State. Connecticut is home to some of the greatest minds in the country, and we are fortunate that the Bill included language that would allow research to take place on the use of medical cannabis among children with life threatening and devastating medical conditions. We could set a precedent that other States look to for their own pediatric medical marijuana programs. The passage of this Bill brings hope to us, particularly to those of us who are quickly running out of options.”
About 10,000 adults are already enrolled in the program, which was approved by the Legislature in 2012, and administered by the state Department of Consumer Protection under one of the tightest regulations in the state, in which 17 serious diseases and ailments are allowed.
Passage of the bill came after hours of argument from Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, the program’s chief critic in theGeneral Assembly. One of her amendments would have deleted irreversible spinal cord injuries from the list of eligible ailments. Another would have required the Department of Consumer Protection to study the effects of medical cannabis on participating youngsters and present a report by next January. Another would have created penalties of a year in prison for caregivers found misusing the drug.
“As it stands, the scientific evidence in favor of medical marijuana is too scant and the possible consequences too great to fall under this category,” Boucher said toward the end of the debate, in which she said she was giving the Senate a break by not calling more amendments, some of which she summarized. “More research must be done by reputable scientists, not a dispensary, before a child’s brain is experimented with. Dispensing pot to young children is too risky and we should undertake no legislative effort that would expose our children to unnecessary risk.”
“We’ve got to get this right,” said Sen. L. Scott Frantz, who voted against the bill. “We need more time to do the research. At this point the data is not there. We cannot do this. So many people want to make marijuana an accepted drug. It shouldn’t be. The fed government has not recognized it as an acceptable drug. Maybe there’s a reason for that.”
In recent years, the U.S. Justice Department has told states that it would not interfere with state medical cannabis programs.
Democrats who voted against the bill included Sen. Gayle Slossberg of Milford, Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Sen.Paul Doyle of Wethersfield. Three Republicans joined Democrats in support of the legislation, including Sen. Clark Chapinof Brookfield. Chapin said he supported the bill on the advice of his older brother, an Oregon physician whose state was an early adopter of medical cannabis back in 1998.
Chapin said Boucher has some good ideas “that deserve greater reflection” by the Department of Consumer Protection.
“While it may not feel like it by my vote, I think Sen. Boucher and I are very well-aligned in our concern about what we’re doing here tonight,” said Chapin. “I think where we part ways, is I think that it’s important that we place some level of trust in physicians to do the right thing, to use prescriptive authority of this nature sparingly, judiciously and show everybody that our concerns, to the best of anyone’s ability, are unwarranted. I’m placing my faith that physicians are going to do the right thing.”
The legislation, would also promote research on the drug that has been stifled for decades on the federal level, and promote job growth in the state. The state is on track for nine dispensaries, which are operated by pharmacists, who advise patients on the strains of marijuana that produce different effects on pain and other symptoms. There are four licensed marijuana producers in the state.