Senate passes medical marijuana bill with opposition from Boucher

By a 23-11 vote, the Connecticut Senate passed an amendment to House Bill 5450 on Friday, April 29, that would allow children with uncontrolled seizures and other severe neurological conditions to have access to medical marijuana.

The Connecticut House of Representatives passed the amended bill by a 129-13 vote on April 20. State Representatives Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Tom O’Dea (R-125) both voted in favor.

For Wiltonian Dana Haddox-Wright, the bill’s progress is part of a multi-year struggle to gain some relief for her 6-year-old daughter, Ella, who suffers from a rare genetic epileptic brain dysfunction called Dravet syndrome that causes her to have uncontrolled seizures.

Haddox-Wright said her daughter, whose current approved pharmaceuticals “are not sufficient at treating” her disease, “deserves access to another option” like medical cannabis.

The day after the bill’s passing in the Senate, Haddox-Wright told The Bulletin that she and other parents who have been advocating for the legalization of medical cannabis to treat children with life-threatening conditions are “incredibly relieved by the passing of this very important bill.”

“Our legislators gave medical professionals and parents the freedom to make the important choices as it pertains to the health and well-being of their sick children,” said Haddox-Wright.

“Our children are our greatest assets and we merely want them to thrive," she said. "We are happy that our voices were heard.”

Boucher’s opposition

Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) was among those who voted against the bill during the April 29 Senate session. Before the vote was taken, Boucher said she would not be voting in favor of the bill because it would be “ill-advised [and] extremely dangerous for our youngest and most vulnerable children.”

“I have very great concerns and I’m opposing this bill, the focus of which is to extend the legal use of medical marijuana to children under the age of 18 and as young as one or two or three or four years old,” she said.

“It’s amazing to me that we could actually give a product that could actually intoxicate a young child at that age [and] this particular bill would expose children, whose bodies are still developing, to a substance which has been linked to numerous health complications even in adults.”

Boucher said “many experts” have noted that “rigorous scientific studies on the safety and effectiveness of marijuana as medicine need to be done.”

This emphasis on research, she said, “echoes the concerns of those who have opposed the designation of marijuana as medicine and the use of anecdotal evidence to promote its use.”

Boucher said the American Epilepsy Society “asserted that more research on medical marijuana was needed before they could ever endorse it” and the Epilepsy Association noted that “the fixation on medical marijuana may have cost patients to eschew better-known and more thoroughly-vetted treatments for epilepsy.”

“The lack of reliable scientific data on the subject means these patients have no access to the kind of information that would allow them to make an informed decision on what treatment is actually best for their child,” said Boucher.

Furthermore, Boucher said, “the rush to expand the medical marijuana program shows a very misplaced confidence in an unproven drug which may have serious long-term consequences.”

Such consequences, Boucher said, include “hindering brain development, resulting in lower IQ and poor memory rate later in life and an increased susceptibility to mental illness, such as schizophrenia and psychosis.”

Marijuana has been “linked to heart problems in young adults” and “suppression of the immune system,” said Boucher, and provides “a gateway to more dangerous drugs.”

“According to a recent statement by the Connecticut Association of Prevention Professionals,” said Boucher, “people addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin.”

In light of the heroin epidemic, Boucher said, “this is a particularly frightening development.”

Boucher said the bill “shows an awareness” of these health issues, proponents of the bill “seek to expand the legal use of this drug to our most vulnerable patients, regardless of marijuana’s known dangers and considerable unknown properties” and treat it “with a legislative and regulatory indulgence that would not be accorded to any other experimental medicine.”

While the state of Connecticut has "a duty to do everything possible to increase access to proven and effective medical treatments for children,” said Boucher, "scientific evidence in favor of medical marijuana is too scant and the possible consequences too great to fall under this category.”

"Dispensing pot to young children is too risky and we should undertake no legislative effort that would expose our children to unnecessary risk,” said Boucher.

Because of this, she said,  she could not and would not “be responsible in any way for aiding this process” when “children’s lives and futures are at stake.”

Even though “there’s always going to be opposition to it,” Haddox-Wright said, she believes support for medical marijuana is increasing "the more people learn about it.”

According to a Wilton Bulletin poll, taken by 50 people as of May 4, 94% of respondents said they support the use of medical cannabis to treat children with uncontrolled seizures. Four percent said they are against it, and 2% said they are unsure.

Next steps

The bill became Public Act 16-23 on May 4. Clerks from the House and Senate will next present Public Act 16-23 to the secretary of state, who will then present a copy to Gov. Dannel Malloy to sign, veto or take no action.

If the governor signs it, fails to sign it within five days during the legislative session, fails to sign it within 15 days after adjournment, or vetoes the act and it's re-passed in each house by a two-thirds vote, it will become a law and go into effect Oct. 1.

Click here to read Public Act No. 16-23.