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Connecticut is pursuing a measured and prudent approach to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. The process continued this week when the General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee approved the rules covering production, dispensing and the purchasing of medical marijuana.
Connecticut is putting safeguards in place to prevent the loosely regulated approach seen in other states, California among them, which comes close to de facto legalization. In California doctors have been able to prescribe pot to treat most anything and its 2,100 dispensaries face little control in the way they do business or obtain the drug.
In Connecticut, indoor growing facilities will be licensed by the state. The Department of Consumer Protection will issue three to 10 licenses. Dispensaries will have to obtain the product from the licensed facilities and maintain records on the buying and selling of the marijuana, an effort to prevent illicit sales to the recreational market.
The Connecticut law has a narrow definition of illnesses that doctors can prescribe marijuana for, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, Parkinson's disease, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS. In many cases marijuana can be prescribed to minimize the adverse side effects from treating these diseases with other medicines. Some advocates for medical marijuana say the permitted uses are too restrictive, but better to proceed cautiously and then expand, or contract, as more information becomes available and the success of the state program is demonstrated.
At the state level, attitudes about marijuana have changed dramatically. Eighteen states have decriminalized possession of marijuana or approved its medicinal use, Connecticut having done both. In Washington and Colorado voters approved ballot measures legalizing recreational use.
This approach in the states remains at odds with federal law, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, on a par with heroin and LSD. This has created an uneasy standoff. The Obama administration has largely let the state initiatives proceed, but at times the Drug Enforcement Administration has cracked down on dispensaries when it feels regulations are being abused.
Congress should end the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug since the evidence does not back giving it that distinction. Removing the designation would ease the tension between federal and state law and allow states to continue exploring how to deal with marijuana, providing useful information that can eventually guide national policy.