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Bureaucracy for bud? CT cannabis ombudsman would give medical users a voice, advocate hopes

Packaged cannabis products at Fine Fettle dispensary In Newington, Connecticut October 17, 2022.
Joe Amon/Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Packaged cannabis products at Fine Fettle dispensary In Newington, Connecticut October 17, 2022.

Since recreational cannabis sales became legal in Connecticut this year, medical cannabis consumers have complained about there not being enough supply to serve both them and retail customers.

The complaints come as the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) reports recreational and medical sales topped $13.3 million from Jan. 10 to Jan. 31.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to create an official Connecticut Cannabis Ombudsman.

An ombudsman could help get the concerns of medical marijuana patients recognized by the DCP, said Connecticut medical cannabis patient advocate Louis Rinaldi.

"We've heard a lot about medical product being re-allocated and diverted to the adult use market," Rinaldi said. "And patients talking about they're not able to get the medicine that they've become accustomed to."

For patients who feel state regulators are placing corporate interests before medical ones, Rinaldi said, "this Ombudsman idea really serves as the classic American government notion of checks and balances."

What would a Cannabis Ombudsman do?

On a basic level, the person would investigate, report on, and settle complaints, Rinaldi said.

"The vision for the bill was really to have someone who puts the needs of patients first," Rinaldi said.

Rojas first introduced the Ombudsman legislation in House Bill 5539. However, the Ombudsman legislation is now before the General Law Committee as part of House Bill 6699.

That seemingly benign bureaucratic shift could have a big impact on the position.

"5539 originally had the Ombudsman office residing within the Department of Economic and Community Development," Rinaldi said. "Since that time, it has changed to say in 6699 that the ombudsman will reside in D.C.P. Again, that's not checks and balances."

Rinaldi also said Connecticut's Cannabis Ombudsman should be divested of any financial interest in the cannabis industry and shouldn't be an appointee of Democratic Governor Ned Lamont.

"We want to make sure that we're minimizing the potential for more corruption," Rinaldi said. "We want to make sure that this person is someone who is going to put the needs and the concerns of patients first."

Medical cannabis advocate Louis Rinaldi spoke to host John Henry Smith recently on "All Things Considered."

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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