HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- After Robert Specht started using marijuana, friends noticed a marked change in his temperament --for the better.
"So many people have come up to me and said, ‘You’re back. It’s you,"’ the 59-year-old Specht said.
The Hamden man was one of the first Connecticut residents to receive a temporary registration certificate in November to legally use cannabis under the state’s new medical marijuana law.
While the Department of Consumer Protection finalizes regulations for the program this month, a temporary certification process is in place to let physicians prescribe marijuana and patients to possess and use it. DCP Commissioner William M. Rubenstein told the AP this week that since the agency began temporary registration, 300 applications have been approved and another 150 are being considered.
Specht developed a debilitating condition eight years ago. He declined to provide details of his medical condition, but said the illness -- and the powerful medications that physicians prescribed him -- changed his life "180 degrees."
"It turns you into a puddle in the bed," he said of the prescription drugs. "You don’t exist any longer. You can’t do anything. You’re not yourself."
He lost 80 pounds while taking powerful pharmaceuticals and overdosed multiple times despite adhering to prescribed dosages. He began using marijuana several years ago, which he said doesn’t remove the pain but does distract him from it.
Specht described the registration process as quick and easy, and the DCP’s Rubenstein said the process thus far has worked "without incident or complaint."
Rubenstein said the state’s regulations are intended to "not attract federal attention" by creating a system that imitates the regulation of other controlled pharmaceutical substances and prevents diversion of marijuana away from its legal users.
But Specht faced an obstacle likely to pester many potential medical marijuana users even after the program is fully operational --his physician refused to discuss letting him register. Under the law, a physician must receive certification from DCP before the patient can even begin the registration process to receive marijuana for medical use. Specht said his doctor wasn’t interested in getting certified.
Instead, Specht got consent from another of his doctors, but 29-year-old Lindsey Beck, of Voluntown, was unable to do so.
Beck, diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2007, has been prevented from registering by her doctors’ refusal to recommend her as an eligible patient. She said her insurance makes it difficult to find a physician willing to refer her for registration, so she has not been able to receive temporary registration.
"All of my doctors have agreed in their medical abstracts that my use of cannabis has significantly improved my conditions," she said. "Why they will not actually participate in my healing is not something I can understand."
Beck is using marijuana anyway, obtaining it through "compassionate individuals."
DCP is set to submit proposed regulations for the program to the attorney general later this month, and then they must be approved by the General Assembly before July 1. Until then, investors who wish to establish grow facilities and dispensaries in the state -- even for medical purposes -- cannot move forward.
During this period, when possession and use is legal but production and distribution isn’t regulated by the state, acquiring marijuana for medical use can be complicated, even for registered patients like Specht.
"I never know where I’m going to get it or when," said Specht. "People who don’t know better seem to think that it’s out there, it’s always available and if you can’t find it, ‘just ask your children and they’ll find it for you."’
He said the fear of punishment from the federal government, which has not decriminalized marijuana, remains, but, in the end, he says his actions are justified.
"My card right now is for all practical purposes nothing more than a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Specht. "But it also makes a statement that I publicly announce that I purport to use this medication."