Panel votes to expand eligibility for medical marijuana

HARTFORD — Opponents of the state’s four-year-old medical marijuana program nearly derailed new regulations aimed at adding patients to the program on Tuesday, but after removing one of seven new ailments, they fell short of the outright rejection the expansion.

The 8-5 vote, however, means that patients with Sickle Cell disease, failed back surgery, severe psoriasis, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and complex regional pain syndrome are now eligible for obtaining two-and-a-half ounces of medical marijuana per month from the one of the state’s six dispensaries.

Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, was the swing vote in adopting the new regulations, after he sided with lawmakers who succeeded in removing Fabry disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes pain in extremities and kidney failure. A move to cut another ailment failed 6-7.

The committee vote, which needs no further legislative action, culminated a 90-minute hand-wringing meeting in which Rep. Tom O’Dea led opposition of the ailment expansion, charging that since there are only five members on the Board of Physicians, which recommended the new afflictions to Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, the panel fails because it does not have to eight members planned in the state’s landmark 2012 enabling legislation.

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