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Families testify in support of bill to allow medical marijuana use by minors

Hartford — Fourteen-year-old Catrina Meehan pleaded with state lawmakers on Friday to “free my sister and my mom.”

“What our laws have done to my family is unjust,” said the St. Bernard School freshman, testifying to the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. “I just want my family in one place. I feel like a kid in a major family divorce with pieces of my life everywhere. Fix it. Now.”

Meehan and her two older sisters, Cassandra, 17 and Corrine, 16, who live in Montville, spoke during a public hearing in support of a bill that would lift Connecticut’s prohibition on the use of medical marijuana by minors. Their 12-year-old sister Cyndimae suffers from a severe form of epilepsy that has not responded to prescription drugs, compelling their mother, Susan, to act on the recommendation of Cyndimae’s neurologist and try medical marijuana treatment. To do that, she moved in November 2013 with Cyndimae to a friend’s house in Maine, where medical marijuana for minors is legal. Her husband and three older daughters, active in their schools and the Mohegan tribe, remained in Montville.

Since then, Cyndimae’s seizures have gone from being frequent daily occurrences to occasional, said Susan Meehan, who was joined by two of her cousins who help the family and one of Cyndimae’s caregivers in testifying at the hearing.

“She hasn’t had a seizure since Feb. 21,” Susan Meehan said before the hearing. “That’s a really long stretch for her.”

Cassandra Meehan said with the aid of marijuana oil — the dosage form her mother creates from plants she grows in the basement of the house in Maine — her youngest sister is “an astronomically different child.

“She can walk without a helmet, without someone by her side to catch her if she falls,” she said. “Only months before she was wheelchair-bound everywhere she went.”

Also testifying on behalf of the bill was Andrea Rupert, who traveled from her home in Salem, Mass., with her 18-year-old son Holden, who has Dravet Syndrome, the same form of epilepsy as Cyndimae Meehan.

“It’s important for you to see the face of a life you might consider when you’re making policy,” Rupert told lawmakers as she began her testimony, her son sitting beside her. “Medical marijuana has given my son a second chance at life. It’s because of the medical marijuana that he can be here today and sit in the car with me.”

Rupert said she obtains marijuana oil capsules for her son through a Colorado-based medical trial. Prescription medications, she said, were not controlling his seizures, and at times caused serious side effects including psychotic episodes in which he would seriously injure himself and others.

The bill being considered by the Judiciary Committee would revise the state’s 2012 medical marijuana law, which took effect last year, to allow use by minors with letters recommending its use from a pediatrician and a physician, among other conditions. It would make other changes to the law, including giving a nurse who administers medical marijuana immunity from arrest, and allow its use for research.

Another bill pending in the Public Health Committee would commission a study to determine whether to expand legalized medical marijuana to minors.

In written testimony, state Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris supported the broader bill pending in the Judiciary Committee, citing the examples of minors with seizure disorders helped by medical marijuana. The consumer protection department administers the current law.

“The department has concluded that doctors should be provided with the option of caring for their child-patients who are suffering from a ‘debilitating medical condition’ with medical marijuana” provided appropriate restrictions are in place, Harris said.

Diane Tarricone of North Windham also testified in favor of the bill. Her 7-year-old daughter, West, has another form of severe epilepsy, and no medications she’s taken thus far have helped, Tarricone said. Her daughter has been invited to be part of a trial of medical marijuana the family learned about through Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, which could go forward if the bill passes, Tarricone said.

“The CCMC doctors are supporting it,” she said.

Committee members pointed out that none of the young medical marijuana patients they had heard about was smoking the drug, but rather taking it as an oil or tinctures.

“It’s important that we’ve heard how they’re taking the marijuana,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, adding that he supports the bill.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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