Connecticut made legal weed regulatory history on Monday as Erin Gorman Kirk, the nation’s first cannabis ombudsperson, began work as the state’s official advocate for medical marijuana patients. 

Gorman Kirk, an attorney, entrepreneur and experienced consumer advocate, is a medical marijuana patient who has been instrumental in drafting cannabis and hemp policy in Connecticut and several other states. Her personal experience with utilizing cannabis, for both herself and other patients she has helped, inspired Gorman Kirk to apply for the new position of cannabis ombudsperson, a position created by the Connecticut General Assembly last year.

The state created the Office of the Cannabis Ombudsman to monitor the palliative use of cannabis and the medical marijuana industry and to act on behalf of medicinal cannabis patients and caregivers. The cannabis ombudsperson operates with administrative support from the state Office of the Healthcare Advocate.

Gorman Kirk said that as Connecticut’s new cannabis ombudsperson, she intends to be a “vigilant guardian of patient interests, making sure that every decision and action taken by producers aligns with the highest standards of care and compassion.”

“We will not only monitor but actively engage with all stakeholders to improve the palliative marijuana market, making Connecticut a model state for patient advocacy in the cannabis sector,” she told CTInsider.

Gorman Kirk was hired from a pool of more than 800 applicants for the position. While she has been actively involved in developing cannabis policy, Gorman Kirk noted that her primary focus has been advocating for patients and consumers, not business interests.

“I am not a lobbyist. Never have been. I’m an advocate,” Gorman Kirk told online news source CTNewsJunkie in a recent interview. “I do probably 750 to 1,000 hours of pro-bono a year. I’m the only lawyer in the country who did every application on a pro-bono basis for social equity candidates. That’s how much I care about people and patients.”

Gorman Kirk noted that she is aware of the potential risks consumers and patients face when they use cannabis. At one time, she noticed adverse effects after using cannabis that had been grown in Connecticut. After she stopped using the products, her symptoms improved.

“Someone said to me, oh, there’s a lot of mold in it. So I started to do some research,” she said. “I went to some of the people that I help with recommendations and caregiving, one of whom is a 95-year-old Parkinson’s patient, who’s a Korean War veteran, and asked them how they were feeling. Everyone was feeling poorly. And I became concerned when I realized these mold levels and or remediation levels, of which we have not been apprised, something was going on, that was different from what you get at a farm.”

Connecticut legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2012, followed by the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2021. With recreational weed now available, the number of patients registered in Connecticut’s medical marijuana program has begun to decline. In January 2023, nearly 49,000 patients were registered to use medical weed. By April of this year, the number of patients had dropped to just over 40,000.

Gorman Kirk says that Connectiuct’s medical marijuana program has also seen other effects following the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“There was an absolute dearth of product availability but lacking consistency,” she said. “Patients could not get the same product week after week. So, we learned that people were driving to Massachusetts to get their medicine, which concerns me deeply as an attorney. Unfortunately, as absurd as it is, you cannot take your medicine with you on vacation. And so that presented a problem and it was also a loss of revenue, and it was clear that the medical-marijuana patients had been left behind as far as I was concerned.”

All regulated cannabis in Connecticut must be tested for safety and purity to protect the health of consumers and medical marijuana patients, many of whom have compromised immune systems or other serious medical challenges. A lack of uniform testing standards, however, means that cannabis that passes testing in one state may be deemed unsafe in a state with more stringent standards. Gorman Kirk says she would like to see industry-wide standards developed in the interest of public safety.

“There’s a company called ASTM,” she said. “And they are trying to create standards and I think standards would be great in other states. I think Missouri, for example, won’t let you even use hybrid or Sativa or Indica. They are demanding you utilize terpenes. So, I would love to see universal standards brought in.”

Lou Rinaldi, a medical cannabis patient advocate who testified before the state legislature on the bill that created the Office of the Cannabis Ombudsman, praised the launch of the new patient advocacy position in Connecticut.

“It has taken far too long, but medical cannabis patients in Connecticut finally have a champion to give them a voice in their own program,” Rinaldi told CTInsider. “I am thrilled to see Erin Gorman Kirk in this role and I look forward to what will undoubtedly be a lengthy list of impactful accomplishments geared toward improving patient outcomes.”

The post Connecticut Hires Nation’s First Weed Ombudsperson first appeared on High Times.