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Pain weighed for inclusion in medical marijuana law

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published March 19. 2013 4:00AM
Some want it on list of allowed conditions

Hartford - A combination of Percocet, Oxycontin, Vicodin and a number of other drugs made Robert Specht of Hamden a "puddle" in bed for five years. He had been prescribed the narcotics to help recover from a foot surgery.

But it wasn't until he got off the narcotics and began using cannabis, or marijuana, that he could once again function.

On Monday, Specht told members of the General Assembly's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee that he believes that pain should be added to the list of qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program.

He was testifying in support of Senate Bill 1117, which proposes to include "pain that is treated by a pain management specialist" as one of the debilitating medical conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. The bill also proposes taxing producers $250 for each pound of marijuana delivered to a dispensary.

Both supporters and opponents of the bill made passionate arguments about whether to include "pain" as a debilitating medical condition that deserved medical marijuana.

Guilford resident William Huhn said the proposal to include pain was being pushed by people who could make money selling marijuana.

"The proponents of this bill are urging you to share in the sleaze via taxes," Huhn said.

Karolin Regan, the program director for Guilford Youth and Family Services, said adding pain to the list would circumvent the process for adding "medical conditions" to those approved for medical marijuana use. Currently a medical condition includes diseases such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and Parkinson's disease, according to the bill.

"It sends the wrong message, making a mockery out of this bill and minimizing the importance of strict laws regarding medical marijuana in Connecticut," Regan said.

Regan said her organization works hard to change the culture of teen substance abuse. Since the legalization of medical marijuana last year, 35 percent of Guilford kids, grades 7 to 12, believe there was no risk or a slight risk from using marijuana regularly, she said. This figure increased from 22 percent in 2010.

Erik Williams, the president of The Connecticut Cannabis Business Alliance, said there is no clear pattern that medical marijuana leads to an increase in teen use.

He said he was advocating for those who were suffering and could benefit from medical marijuana. There are many ways to use marijuana today besides smoking it, he said, including creams and vaporizers.

Specht said he is suffering from four disabilities; his foot surgery, which causes pain to radiate up his leg; knee and hip injuries from a fall; and post traumatic stress disorder from dealing with the medical system.

He said he overdosed three times on the narcotics prescribed to him by a pain specialist.

"I will never take another narcotic again as long as I live," he said.

The only thing he has replaced the medicines with is cannabis, he said.

He told committee members that one day they might need to use cannabis.

"Be glad you had the opportunity to treat yourself or someone you love with compassion and not poison," Specht said.

j.somers@theday.com

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