OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 6715

AN ACT CONCERNING THE PALLIATIVE USE OF MARIJUANA.

SUMMARY:

This bill allows a physician to certify an adult patient's use of marijuana after determining that the patient has a debilitating condition and could potentially benefit from the palliative use of marijuana. It establishes a procedure for certifying patients.

It allows people suffering from these conditions and their primary caregivers to possess a quantity of marijuana that the bill sets to treat the conditions.

The bill requires the patients and their primary caregivers to register with the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) and authorizes the department to impose a $ 25 registration fee. The fees must be deposited in a separate, nonlapsing Palliative Marijuana Administration Account the bill establishes.

The bill prohibits physicians, qualifying patients, and their caregivers from being arrested, prosecuted, or otherwise punished for certifying, using, or possessing palliative marijuana.

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to return marijuana, marijuana paraphernalia, or other property seized from a patient or primary caregiver who complies with its provisions.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007, except for the provision establishing the Palliative Marijuana Administration Account, which is effective July 1, 2007.

USE OF MARIJUANA FOR PALLIATIVE PURPOSES

The bill allows adult patients to use marijuana for the treatment of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, or wasting syndrome. The bill allows people with these debilitating conditions to possess marijuana, up to the amount permitted for palliative use under the bill.

The bill allows a patient or his primary caregiver to possess the usable amount. The caregiver must be at least age 18 and someone other than the patient's doctor who assists the patient in his palliative use of marijuana. If the patient lacks legal capacity, the caregiver must be his parent, guardian, or legal custodian. The qualifying patient's physician must determine the patient's need for a primary caregiver and document the need in a certification of palliative use. The bill limits patients to one caregiver at a time and caregivers to only one patient.

CERTIFICATION OF MARIJUANA USE

Under the bill, a physician may certify a patient's use of marijuana only after determining that the patient is over 18, has a debilitating condition (i. e. , the patient is a qualifying patient), and the potential benefits of the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh its health risks. The bill makes the certification valid for one year from the date it is signed. It requires the patient or the primary caregiver to destroy all marijuana plants and usable marijuana (i. e. , dried marijuana leaves and flowers or preparation or mixture of flowers and leaves, minus the seeds, stalks, and roots) that the patient or caregiver possesses for palliative use (1) within 10 days after the certification expires or (2) at any time before if the patient no longer wishes to possess marijuana for palliative use.

The bill permits DCP to establish in regulations a form physicians must use to certify a patient's palliative use of marijuana. “Palliative use” means the acquisition and distribution, possession, growth, use, or transportation of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia to treat the qualifying patient's symptoms or their effects. “Acquisition and distribution” means the transfer of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia from the primary caregiver to the qualifying patient.

The bill does not require health insurers to cover the palliative use of marijuana.

REGISTRATION

The bill requires certified patients and their primary caregivers to register with DCP within five business days after the certificate is issued. They must give the department information that sufficiently and personally identifies them and report any change in the information within five business days after it occurs.

The bill requires DCP to issue the patient and the primary caregiver a registration certificate that is valid for the same period as the written certification from the physician, up to one year. DCP may charge reasonable registration fee, up to $ 25. It must turn over any registration fees it collects to the state treasurer for deposit in a Palliative Marijuana Administration Account (see below).

The bill makes registration information confidential and not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. But DCP can verify for any law enforcement agency that asks whether a patient or primary caregiver is registered and provide the agency with reasonable access to registry information for law enforcement purposes.

The bill permits DCP to establish registration procedures in regulations. It requires the department to establish in regulations a reasonable fee that helps it offset direct and indirect costs associated with administering the palliative use of marijuana. Patients must pay this fee, plus any registration fee, when they register. The fees must be paid to the state treasurer and credited to the Palliative Marijuana Administration Account.

PALLIATIVE MARIJUANA ADMINISTRATION ACCOUNT

The bill establishes a separate, nonlapsing Palliative Marijuana Administration Account in the General Fund. The account consists of the fees DCP collects for palliative marijuana registration and administration, investment earnings, and any other moneys the law requires to be deposited in it. The legislature can appropriate money in the account only for palliative marijuana administration. Any money remaining in the account at the end of a fiscal year must be carried forward to the next year.

PUNISHMENT FOR MARIJUANA CERTIFICATION, USE, AND POSSESSION

Physician

The bill prohibits any physician from being arrested, prosecuted, or otherwise punished, including being denied any right or privilege, or being disciplined by the Connecticut Medical Examining Board or any other professional licensing board, for writing a certification for marijuana if he:

1. diagnosed a qualifying patient with a debilitating condition;

2. explained the risks and benefits of using marijuana for palliative purposes to any such patient or the parent, guardian, or legal custodian of any such patient who lacks legal capacity; and

3. based his written certification on his professional opinion after fully assessing the patient's medical history and current medical condition in the course of a physician-patient relationship.

Qualifying Patients

The bill prohibits qualified patients from being arrested, prosecuted, denied any right or privilege, or otherwise punished for using marijuana if:

1. they are diagnosed with a debilitating condition;

2. their physician has issued a written certification for their palliative use of marijuana after prescribing, or determining it is against their best interest to prescribe, prescription drugs to address the symptoms or effects the marijuana is supposed to treat;

3. the combined amount possessed by the patient and his primary caregiver does not exceed four marijuana plants, each having a maximum height of four feet, and one ounce of usable marijuana; and

4. the marijuana is cultivated in a secure indoor facility.

The protection against punishment does not apply if a patient uses marijuana:

1. in a way that endangers another person's health or well-being;

2. on a motor or school bus; in any moving vehicle; at work; on school grounds or college or university property; in a public or private school or dormitory; or at a public park, beach, recreation or youth center, or any other public place; or

3. within the direct line of sight of anyone under age 18 or in any way that exposes that person to second-hand marijuana smoke, or both.

Primary Caregiver

The bill prohibits registered primary caregivers from being arrested, prosecuted, denied any right or privilege, or otherwise punished for acquiring, distributing, possessing, growing, or transporting a small amount of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia for a qualifying patient. The amount of marijuana cannot exceed four plants, each having a maximum height of four feet, and one ounce of usable marijuana.

The protection against punishment for distribution applies only when the drug or paraphernalia is transferred from the caregiver to the patient.

PALLIATIVE USE OF MARIJUANA AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

The bill permits patients and primary caregivers who comply with its requirements to assert that fact as an affirmative defense to (i. e. , a way to avoid) any state prosecution involving marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia. The bill prohibits anyone from being arrested or prosecuted solely for being present or in the vicinity as marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia is acquired, possessed, cultivated, used, distributed, or transported for palliative use.

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to return marijuana, marijuana paraphernalia, or other property seized from a patient or primary caregiver who complies with its provisions immediately after a court determines that they were entitled to have it. Under the bill, entitlement is evidenced by a prosecutor's decision to dismiss the charges or not to prosecute, or the patient or caregiver's acquittal.

The law absolves law enforcement officials of any responsibility for the care and maintenance of live marijuana plants seized as evidence.

The bill makes anyone who lies to a law enforcement officer about acquiring, possessing, cultivating, using, distributing, or transporting marijuana for palliative use in order to avoid arrest or prosecution for a drug-related offense guilty of a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months' imprisonment, a $ 500 fine, or both. It makes anyone who lies to the officer about the issuance, contents, or validity of a (1) written certification for the palliative use of marijuana or (2) document purporting to be a written certification guilty of a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, a $ 2,000 fine, or both.

BACKGROUND

Marijuana is a Controlled Substance

Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. With one exception, the law prohibits anyone from knowingly or intentionally manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense Schedule I drugs. Licensed practitioners, including pharmacies, can use Schedule I substances in government-approved research projects. The penalty for violations varies depending on the amount of drugs involved (21 USCA 812, 823, and 841 (a)(1)).

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

32

Nay

8

(03/21/2007)