Medical marijuana businesses stirring in Conn.
HARTFORD, Conn.—As the state prepares to work on how it will regulate medical marijuana transactions in Connecticut, a home-grown industry is already stirring.
An Arizona businessman visited the state on Tuesday to promote his pot-dispensing machine, and a lawyer says he will shift some of his business to representing clients with medical conditions seeking permission to buy marijuana.
Bruce Bedrick, chief executive of Medbox Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., was in Hartford on Tuesday to show off a "mock dispensary" that would make medical marijuana available to eligible patients.
"We expect competition to be fierce," he said. "As much as I want to be in the business, a lot of other people will be in the business."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed Connecticut's medical marijuana legislation into law on June 1, prompting the Department of Consumer Protection to begin writing regulations. Commissioner William Rubenstein said rules are not expected to be in place until next year.
"We're creating an industry from zero, from the ground up," he said.
The law making Connecticut the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana takes effect Oct. 1. By then, the consumer protection agency will establish a temporary registration procedure for patients to be protected from prosecution, Rubenstein said.
The consumer protection agency will look to its own experience as it drafts medical marijuana rules, he said. The agency issues liquor and pharmacy licenses and its lawyers, drug control agents and other staff members know how to establish a licensing system with background checks, Rubenstein said.
The agency also is looking at the experience of other states and is getting suggestions from businesses, he said.
"There's no end of advice we're getting from people who would like to be in this industry," Rubenstein said.
A local official in Colorado, where the use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legal since 2000, says numerous problems plague the dispensing of pot. Ron LeBlanc, city manager of Durango, Colo., said marijuana dispensaries use only cash because banks, which are federally chartered, are reluctant to run afoul of federal laws banning marijuana use.
"There's room for mischief," he said.
In addition, health privacy laws shield marijuana businesses from providing information on what's being sold and employees too often have a criminal history, LeBlanc said.
The Durango City Council recently imposed a 60-day hold on new business licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries and production facilities to deal with regulatory issues that have arisen over the last three years.
Connecticut's new law permits marijuana to be sold in multiple forms at dispensaries that must have a licensed pharmacist on staff and marijuana may be marketed only to patients authorized to use it. The measure also outlines specific diseases that would be treated by the drug, establishes a registration system for patients and caregivers and restricts cultivating the plant to growers with permits.
Erik Williams, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of NORML, which advocates for repealing laws prohibiting marijuana, said the new law will spur growth in industries growing and distributing marijuana and ancillary businesses that sell indoor growing systems, energy-efficient lights and other equipment.
"It is a whole new industry," he said.
Aaron Romano, a Bloomfield lawyer who represents clients who have run-ins with the law over marijuana possession or distribution, said he will expand his business now that medical marijuana is legal.
"Having some base of knowledge puts you at an advantage," he said.
Prospective clients are dispensaries and patients applying for medical cards that will enable them to obtain marijuana, Romano said. His goal is to expand the list of conditions to include chronic pain and other conditions that are not excluded from listed ailments to be treated by medical marijuana.
The law allows marijuana use for "debilitating medical conditions" that include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and numerous other diseases and conditions that may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection.
In the meantime, business owners and others will have to wait until Connecticut regulators draw up medical marijuana rules.
"There are questions that are unanswered now," Bedrick said.