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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    First-ever cannabis ombudsman hired by Connecticut, a rare position in the U.S., officials say

    After a nearly yearlong search, Connecticut has hired a cannabis ombudsman, a new position that state officials say is unique in the United States.

    Erin Gorman Kirk, who was named this week as the state's first cannabis ombudsman, will work to advocate on behalf of medical cannabis patients.

    The Office of the Cannabis Ombudsman was established by the General Assembly on July 1, 2023, and will receive administrative support from the Office of the Healthcare Advocate. Salary was approved for the position at a range of $88,710 to $161,639 a year. Gorman Kirk will earn $130,000 annually, according to state officials.

    Gorman Kirk said that in her new role she intends to be a "vigilant guardian of patient interests, making sure that every decision and action taken by producers aligns with the highest standards of care and compassion."

    "We will not only monitor, but actively engage with all stakeholders to improve the palliative marijuana market, making Connecticut a model state for patient advocacy in the cannabis sector," she added.

    Since launching the state's legal, recreational cannabis market, Connecticut has seen a decrease in the total sales of medical cannabis, and the number of patients registered to use cannabis.

    In January 2023, there were 48,896 total medical cannabis patients, according to state data. By the end of April this year, that number had dropped to just above 40,000.

    Medical cannabis sales in Connecticut were overtaken by recreational sales in May 2023, and that gap has continued to widen. There were $15.6 million in recreational cannabis sales in April, compared to $8.3 million in medical cannabis sales for the same time period.

    "It has taken far too long, but medical cannabis patients in Connecticut finally have a champion to give them a voice in their own program," said Lou Rinaldi, a medical cannabis patient advocate who testified before the state legislature on the bill that created the position. "I am thrilled to see Erin Gorman Kirk in this role and I look forward to what will undoubtedly be a lengthy list of impactful accomplishments geared toward improving patient outcomes."

    Gorman Kirk is a Norwalk-based lawyer, consumer advocate and founder of Cannabis Government Strategies, a federal and state lobbying and consulting firm. A news release sent from the Office of the Healthcare Advocate, said she has been "influential in the development of cannabis and hemp policy in several states, including Connecticut."

    "Erin was selected from a field of over 800 applicants, with input from patient advocates, as well as the governor's office and the office of House Majority Leader Jason Rojas," said Sean T. King, Connecticut's acting health care advocate.

    Rojas, D-East Hartford, said Gorman Kirk "brings a wealth of experience to the position and is well prepared to navigate the complex and uncharted course of cannabis legalization and all of the moving parts that need to work together for a smooth transition."

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