Up until recently, David Melillo said he thought medical marijuana was relatively benign.
And then he did some research.
Melillo, the director of human services for Madison Youth And Family Services, said he found that, in states that currently allow for medical marijuana, not everyone using it is someone who has a medical condition that calls for it.
"The prototypical medical marijuana user is a 37-year-old white male with no history of the designated illnesses and who has a history of drug arrests," he told the Madison Board of Selectmen earlier this week during a Board of Selectmen meeting. He said that, in some towns in California, dispensaries for medical marijuana outnumber Starbucks Coffee Shops.
"We still want it for people who are hurting and suffering but .. "
"My antennae went up" after learning that, he said.
He said it's clear that there are legitimate uses for medical marijuana and that "we still want it for people who are hurting and suffering," but he said, so far, there is not a good track record of medical marijuana being used just for those who are hurting and suffering.
One of his biggest concerns, given the past track record in other states, he said, is allowing medical marijuana to be sold or grown in Madison, even by a licensed pharmacist or authorized producer under Connecticut state law.
Concer about the possibility of licensed growers or sellers
Both he and Catherine Barden, the coalition coordinator for the Madison Alcohol and Drug Education coalition [M.A.D.E. in Madison] urged the selectmen to consider how they might manage or prohibit the possibility of a licensed seller or grower of marijuana in Madison, if that comes up.
A law passed by the Connecticut legislature in May of this year allows qualified patients to register to use medical marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions specifically identified in the law. The state started taking temporary applications from patients as of Oct. 1, 2012.
The new law also will allow primary caretakers of those patients to register to obtain medical marijuana. The law eventually also will allow licensed pharmacists to apply for and obtain a dispensary license from the Department of Consumer Protection. And, at least three but not more than 10 producers will be authorized to grow marijuana.
Connecticut state law stricter than some other states
For a patient to be authorized under the law, he or she has to be over 18, a resident of Connecticut, and has to be diagnosed by a Connecticut-licensed physician as having one of these conditions:
cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Both Barden and Melillo said the Connecticut law does provide for some restrictions that other states do not and so may not create the same level of problems as in other states.
Benefits must outweight possible consquences
"They do have to be over 18, they do have to go through a physician, they do have to qualify for one of a number of conditions," Barden said. There has to be some level of proof that the benefits of such use outweigh any possible consequences, she said.
Barden said that California does not have the same age limitations,and that there have been reports of high school students getting a card to obtain marijuana, and then using that authorization to become drug dealers.
"We can learn from what other states have done," Barden said. "And there are things in other states that definitely did not go so well."
Selling marijuana is still a violation of federal law
Barden and Melillo said they think the state is still about a year, to a year and a half, away from creating dispensaries. They said most licensed pharmacists might be leery about selling marijuana because it is still a violation of federal law to grow and sell marijuana. They said federal agents have raided authorized dispensaries.
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson agreed that it would not be ideal to have a kiosk in a parking lot dispensing marijuana, but he asked whether the town, if it passed a law prohibiting dispensaries, would also be prohibiting a national pharmacy like CVS, if a national pharmacy like CVS were to consider dispensing marijuana.
Barden said she thought most national pharmacies like CVS would be discouraged from becoming dispensaries because of the federal law prohibiting sale of marijuana.
By ordinance or land use laws?
Selectman Joe MacDougald said the town could consider a limitation against dispensaries and producers, but he wondered whether it would make more sense to do so by ordinance, or to do so through the town's land use regulations.
MacDougald said it might make sense to bring it up with the town's planning and zoning officials, to see what suggestions they might have about flagging any potential applications for growing or selling marijuana. Noting that the town has no use restrictions at all in this new area, he suggested one immediate approach might be to ask the Planning and Zoning Commission to make dispensaries permissible only through the special exception permit process. While not a permanent solution, it would at least provide some immediate oversight until more is known, he said.
While town officials grapple with the question of what should be done to limit the sellers and growers of marijuana in town, if anything, Melillo said he and other people involved in drug education in town are dealing with the new law at another level. He said he already is hearing from kids in town that using marijuana can't be bad, "because it's medicine."
"Why not! It's good for you! It's medicine!"
"We're already hearing that," he said. "'Why not? It's good for you! It's medicine! It'll make you better!'"
He and Barden said parents and other adults should be ready with a response, one that is the same as when kids try to defend abuse of prescription drugs. The response is that medicine is fine when it's needed, when it's appropriately prescribed by a doctor, and when it's used as prescribed. When it's not, it's abuse, it's illegal, and potentially harmful.
"You have to continually draw these distinctions for kids," he said.
"It's something we'll have to watch"
Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm said it wouldn't be possible to make Madison a "dry town" when it comes to marijuana, and that the police department would follow whatever guidelines are set forth by the state. "Do I anticipate having problems with kids taking mom and dad's marijuana?" he said. "It's not like we don't have problems with that right now. It's something we'll have to watch.
McPherson said it does make sense to evaluate what action might be taken by the town, and to take it sooner rather than later.
"We can't make it so that people can't use it here," Melillo said, adding that no one objects to people who truly need it, using it. "But we can make it so they can't sell it."
"They still have the pipes"
Barden said following the meeting that she'd also like to see local regulations prohibiting the sale of drug paraphernalia at local stores.
She said at least one gas station in town currently does sell pipes. She said that gas station used to sell synthetic marijuana, before it was illegal.
After the synthetic marijuana became illegal, the store pulled it, she said. "But they still have the pipes," she said.
Editor's note: This article was corrected at 11:52 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 to more accurately reflect Selectman Joe MacDougald's comments.