Public Testimony for CT HB6699
Dear Cochairs Maroney and D’Agostino, and esteemed members of the General Law Committee,
I am a Fairfield County resident and have been practicing nursing in Connecticut for nearly two decades. In my time as a caregiver in the healthcare system I have watched a steep decline in patient care occur at every level of the system. Profit and greed have corrupted the delivery of a service that should, by all means, be a human right. In 2020, I developed hand pain related to my work. After having carpal tunnel surgery, my symptoms worsened. When I relayed this to the surgeon, I was told it must be my mental health and was referred to the pain management. The pain doctors were pushing me to take an antipsychotic drug for nerve pain, regardless of the fact that I did not have a diagnosis after the failed carpal tunnel surgery. When I looked up the side effects of this drug they wanted me to try for pain, pain that was interfering with my ability to do daily activities like wash my hair or prepare meals, the number one side effect was suicidal ideation. The doctors had not told me this. I refused the medication and the treatment from these doctors. I have suffered from suicidal ideation in the past, and I would prefer to be in pain than to experience that again. I was furious that the doctors had not explicitly given me that information before pushing this drug on me. I lost all faith that I would be treated well then and I began to investigate alternative treatments. I began trying chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, and, eventually, medical cannabis.
I have been using cannabis since college. In nursing school, still one of the most challenging bachelors degrees to obtain, I started using cannabis recreationally. By the end of my four years though, I had come to understand that this dangerous drug (as I learned in D.A.R.E.) helped keep me less anxious, helped me focus on my studies, and, in fact, throughout the four years my GPA rose proportionally to the frequency of my cannabis use. Later in life, I suffered a traumatic brain injury. After that I really started to understand how cannabis benefitted me by countering some of the deficits associated with my brain injury. I recall a challenging hike in VT about a year after my accident. The climb up was so difficult and painful. I was scared to descend because it was wet and slippery and I didn’t have the best balance or trust of my own body. At the top of the mountain some other hikers were smoking cannabis. Despite being with friends who didn’t know I partook, I accepted the pipe from the hikers. Following those few hits, my entire physiology changed and I hopped down that mountain like a fairy sprite and had to wait a half an hour for my group to catch up. That was the moment my respect and awe for the cannabis plant was truly born. For the next decade I lived in the closet about my cannabis use, falling victim to the fear of stigma.
When I realized in 2021 that the failing medical system was failing me, I struck out on my own to understand how cannabis might help me manage my pain. I quickly became overwhelmed with the information that research has unveiled about cannabis. I completed additional collegiate studies at an accredited university on the endocannabinoid system and medical cannabis care. I got my medical cannabis patient card and decided to stop living in the closet. I developed my own home made topicals and tinctures targeted to my symptoms. And they worked. They worked so much better than the NSAIDS and antidepressants and Tylenol that were tearing up my stomach and making me sick. After nearly a year of being ignored by the “system,” I finally found a physician who diagnosed me properly with DeQuervain's tenosynovitis. He performed the proper surgeries which nearly eliminated my pain. This diagnosis should have been made properly nearly 18 months earlier. It should also have been considered after I reported that I did not improve after carpal tunnel surgery. Instead, like so many I have met, I was dismissed and ignored until I had the strength to advocate for myself. I could have stayed in pain management, where I likely would have ended up with a lifelong need for pharmaceuticals. Fortunately, I knew that I did not want to go that route because of what I have seen in nursing over the years. I do believe the delay in treatment led to what will be permanent damage. I will never be able to work in bedside nursing again. The delay in care also resulted in my being removed from my nursing position and losing my job with the healthcare system I had worked for for 15 years. They didn’t even call me to tell me I was fired.
These experiences have broken my heart as a nurse. I was treated so poorly by the system I served unwaveringly for years. As I became more involved in the cannabis space, I have learned that so many people who have found this plant did so only as a result of giving up on or being given up on by the medical establishment. It makes me angry and sad to have been complicit in a system that now prioritizes profit over patients. But the qualities that make me a great nurse are still inside me, and I have a newly ignited passion for helping others find health and wellness. Whether it’s how to use cannabis as medicine, how to advocate for themselves within the system, or working with nursing associations to advocate for change, my medical cannabis journey has given me something the healthcare system took from me long ago… purpose.
I support HB6699. I am employed by a non-profit group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. Our founder, Dr. David Nathan, working with the standards organization ASTM, designed the International Intoxicating Cannabis Product Symbol (IICPS). The IICPS was adopted by the state of Montana and went into effect on January 1, 2022. New Jersey and Vermont have also incorporated the IICPS design into their state symbols, making the IICPS the most widely adopted cannabis product symbol in the United States. IICPS incorporates a cannabis leaf, the graphic element most associated with cannabis, into the internationally-compliant standard triangular caution sign (ISO 3864), creating an instantly familiar symbol for all cannabis product packages. Absence of text (e.g., “THC”) inside the triangle complies with existing international caution sign standards, avoids linguistic & jurisdictional ambiguity, and prevents the need for future changes in the symbol as cannabis science and policy evolves. I would be happy to facilitate cooperation from DFCR in adding IICPS to our labeling standards. (https://www.dfcr.org/universal-cannabis-symbol)
Regarding an ombudsman, I also support this. The medical supply, which many patients find lacking to begin with, has already started to dwindle in the wake of adult use sales. The DCP has so many areas of oversight that I understand that the resources for responding to patient concerns are limited. In the hospitals, we used an ombudsman as well. This individual was usually someone with post-secondary education, who is experienced in advocating for patients/consumers, negotiation, and navigating complex organizational structures. An ombudsman for the CTMMP could greatly help improve communication between the patients, DCP, and medical cannabis providers and dispensaries. Utilizing someone with medical experience would also help to translate the medical needs of patients. The DCP is not a healthcare regulator. I believe having someone, like a nurse, who is skilled in both translating medical jargon into layman's terms and in advocating for our patients' needs would be key to the success of this position.
Regarding (9); establish a task force to study the potential impact of authorizing individuals who are authorized to cultivate cannabis in their residences to sell, at retail, such cannabis at events organized, at least in part, to facilitate such sales. I fully support this effort. We have, as a state, legalized cannabis. There are many talented people in our state who have been cultivating cannabis and creating medicine for their friends and families (and yes, their customers too) for far longer than the corporations the state has chosen to grow medicine for patients. There are many patients who, rightly, continue to trust these existing economies for their medicine supply over the MMP. I really appreciate that this bill does not attempt to further criminalize unlicensed caregivers and that this committee is considering the potential for these operations to continue. These are not dangerous cartels. These are people just like me, like my friends who are successful professionals with families, who find pleasure in growing something with their own hands that can provide health and happiness to those in their communities.
In closing, please vote to support this bill. The patients in our state who use cannabis as medicine are tired of being marginalized and criminalized based on decades of fear and misinformation. We need better systems in place to protect our rights to treat ourselves with a plant medicine that has been used safely for at least 5000 years. Nurses are educators at heart, and I have found my purpose in educating others about safe, informed, intentional cannabis use. I offer myself to this committee and each lawmaker as a resource on cannabis medicine.
Lisa Capitani, MBA, BSN, RN, CGRN