The number of medical marijuana patients in Connecticut has more than tripled in the last year. In response, the state will open three new dispensary locations.
Meriden pharmaceutical company Hancock Wellness Center has applied to open a facility in Meriden. Meanwhile, Bristol dispensary The Healing Corner celebrates its one-year “Canna-versary” today.
State officials say it has been a year of tremendous growth and innovation for industry.
Southington resident Jeff Schaefer has the first receipt he received from The Healing Corner framed on a wall of his home.
“I thought it was a pretty momentous occasion,” Schaefer said. “Nothing helped like what they are giving me now and it’s been a year.”
For Schaefer, medical marijuana means pain management for a central nervous system disorder characterized by severe and chronic pain. He developed the condition after a spinal cord injury from a 2007 car accident. Schaefer tried a slew of opiate medications including pills, patches and injections before his doctor suggested he try medical marijuana last year.
The Healing Corner has gone from 200 patients to 1,000 in the last year, according to pharmacist David Slomski.
When the dispensary opened only three strains of plants were available, Slomski said. Now over 100 kinds of marijuana-based medications are offered, including re-filled vaporizer pens, capsules, tinctures, sprays, topical solutions and edibles. Pipes, bongs and rolling papers, are also available, however, Slomski says they discourage patients from using them because of the negative health effects of inhaling smoke.
When Schaefer began visiting the dispensary it could only offer marijuana in plant form. Today, Schaefer will be filling his prescription for capsules containing marijuana extract.
“It just blew my mind that it’s only been one year and I’m already taking it in such a different way,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer prefers strains that contain high percentages of cannibidiol (CBD) over tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to manage his pain. Unlike THC, CBD does not contain any psychoactive properties.
In addition to relieving his symptoms, Schaefer said it has cut the amount of other prescription medication he takes in half.
The type of medication prescribed is based on how the patient needs to manage their symptoms, Slomski said. While smoking or vaporizing works for patients with multiple sclerosis in need of fast-acting pain relief, chemotherapy patients can get a pill when they know they are going in for treatment to manage their nausea.
The facility is not only offering more products, but at lower prices, Slomski said.
“At first someone would have to cough up $250 for a vaporizer, but now for one of the pre-filled vapor-pens, they can get it for $60,” Slomski said. “An ounce (of marijuana in plant form) was $595… Now depending on what strain, it ranges from $200 to $390.”
Slomski speculated that the competition between the state’s four production facilities is responsible for driving the prices down.
While the cost is still more expensive than street prices, dispensary owner Geri Ann Bradley said the lab-tested product is of much higher quality, without mold or pesticides. Additionally, patients know exactly what they are getting as the percentages of the chemicals contained in the marijuana are listed on the prescription bottle.
While patients and products have grown rapidly, so has the number of doctors prescribing medical marijuana. Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said the number of physicians prescribing the drug has increased from 108 in September 2014 to 257 as of Aug. 27. As a result, about 100 new patients are added to the program each week, Harris said. When the state’s first dispensaries opened only 1,681 patients were registered and as of this month over 5,300 are registered.
In addition to filling patient needs, the industry means business for the state. Over 225 jobs have been created between the production facilities and the dispensaries and the program will only continue to expand, Harris said.
Harris said seven new qualifying conditions will be added to the program at the suggestion of the state’s board of physicians. The 11 conditions currently eligible for treatment are cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal chord or nervous system damage with intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disase and post-traumatic stress disorder. Harris said the state is in the process of adding post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, sickle cell disease, ALS, Fabry Disease, ulcerative colitis and complex regional pain syndrome to the list of approved conditions by early 2016.
Over time, this will add thousands of new patients to the program, Harris said.
To meet the demand of the expanding patient base, the state has decided to open three new dispensaries and Meriden’s Hancock Wellness Center LLC is among 19 applicants in the running. The application deadline was 3 p.m. Friday, Harris said.
Fourteen companies submitted applications, however, multiple applications were submitted by three companies and are being considered separately by the state.
“We are pleased with the number of applications received and are ready to begin our comprehensive review process,” Harris said in a statement.
Licenses will be awarded to three applicants early next year.
The state currently operates six medical marijuana dispensaries and four production facilities. Dispensaries are in Bristol, Hartford, Branford, Bethel, South Windsor and Uncasville.
Hancock Wellness Center applied to open a dispensary at 29 Gravel St. in 2013 during the first wave of applications and was one of 21 companies rejected by the DCP.
Owner Greg Hancock said the company applied out of a desire is to be the “go-to” for customers in the area in need of the medication.
“We just want to give everyone all the medical opportunities that are out there,” Hancock said.
The application fee was $1,000, Hancock said. The application differs from the company’s first attempt in that the proposed location was changed from Gravel Street to 1295 East Main St. The company also secured a letter of approval from City Planner Dominick Caruso, Hancock said.
The East Main Street location was formerly an Ion Bank.
“We thought, being a bank, security is a big issue and the vault is huge,” Hancock said. “The way it’s set up I think is going to be ideal for us.”
The three-story building is about 5,000 square feet. Hancock said they will be renovating it as needed to adapt it into a dispensary if awarded the license.
“Hopefully we’re going to have the opportunity to secure a license and we’ve done a lot of work on it,” Hancock said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing to offer people and the whole state. Meriden is the crossroads of Connecticut and we’re going to be accessible.”
(h/t: my record journal )