HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut became the latest state to enact a medical marijuana program when a legislative committee on Tuesday approved regulations that spell out the details of a new system that's expected to be up and running next year.
By a voice vote, the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee approved the rules crafted by the Department of Consumer Protection. While there were some nay votes, no tally was taken. Some cheers erupted in the audience after the regulations were declared approved.
After filing the regulations with the secretary of the state, Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein said the agency will seek applications for marijuana producer and dispensary licenses early next month. In the department's request for applications, it will say how many licenses it expects to issue in this round.
"We're still fine-tuning what the numbers will be," said Rubenstein, who anticipates applications will be due 60 days after the request. He anticipates licenses would be issued sometime around Jan. 1, and production and dispensing operations will be up and running within three to six months afterward.
Rubenstein had urged committee members to approve the regulations, parts of which were recently retooled to address concerns raised by legislative attorneys. He said many patients are waiting for the drug to become legally available.
"There are a lot of people who don't have any idea how or would not buy this product on the black market. And there's a lot of risk associated with buying a product that you don't know what's in it," he said. "We expect that there are a lot of patients out there who are waiting to see if this program is going to be up and running."
Rubenstein said physicians have already certified 881 patients for the program and almost 600 have gone through the vetting process and received their registration cards. Of those, he said some are likely buying their marijuana from illegal sources, while many others are waiting for the program to begin. Still others have held off applying for certification.
The wide-ranging regulations address everything from how marijuana dispensaries and growers will operate to how marijuana can be kept secure and unadulterated. The General Assembly passed the original legislation that created the medical marijuana program in 2012.
Some of the committee members expressed concerns that the program will be at odds with federal drug laws, putting growers, dispensaries, state employees and possibly legislators at risk of federal prosecution.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, acknowledged there is "some comfort that can be taken that these regulations are being written as conservatively as possible," but he remained concerned about violating federal law.
"I think we're boxing ourselves into a potential federal conflict that we are trying to regulate an industry that is, frankly, it's illegal under federal law," he said.
Asked by Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury, the committee co-chairman, whether he can be sued for enacting the regulations, Robert Clark, special counsel to the state attorney general, said, "I don't know. I think it's highly doubtful."
Of the 20 states that have either implemented or adopted medical marijuana laws, Clark said his office is aware of four where courts tackled the issue of "pre-emption," in which a state law is invalidated when it conflicts with a federal law. But he said there has been a split on those decisions.
In a written memo, the attorney general's office called the case law "highly unsettled."