A Connecticut grower of medical marijuana paid $300,000 for a litany of production failures, from selling cannabis before it was registered with state officials to allowing unauthorized personnel into supposedly secure cultivation rooms.
The same company, Curaleaf LLC of Simsbury, entered into a separate settlement for $10,000 after admitting that pesticides or organic solvents were used during the manufacture of cannabis plants grown for Connecticut dispensaries.
Another grower, Advanced Grow Labs of West Haven, mislabeled its marijuana-infused cookies, prompting a major change in its bakery operation and a $6,000 payment to the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Caring Nature, LLC, a Waterbury dispensary, allegedly balked at cooperating with state regulators and did not keep adequate business records, then later agreed to pay $5,000 to the DCP.
Five years after Connecticut approved the use of marijuana for patients with chronic, debilitating diseases and ailments, the program is showing some growing pains. In the two-and-a-half years that Connecticut-grown product has been available for registered patients through dispensaries, half a dozen alleged violations have been reported, investigated and settled, according to documents released by the DCP under the state Freedom of Information Act.
By far the biggest settlements were with Curaleaf, which was founded by Robert Birnbaum, of Greenwich. In a six-page agreement dated last August, the company admitted it did not package its cannabis in child-resistant bottles, that it twice sold marijuana prior to registering brand names with the DCP, that it did not submit advertisements for approval with the agency and encouraged recreational use in ads, and that it failed to have recall plans.
Nine cases in all
The most-serious transgression was Curaleaf’s failure to register employees, and allowing unauthorized workers to the marijuana-growing areas of its building.
Birnbaum, in an interview last week, declined to comment on specifics, stressing that he retired from operating the facility before the breaches in state regulations occurred.
“I’m actually quite proud of the part I’ve played,” said Birnbaum, who obtained Connecticut’s the first producer license, back in January of 2014. “The growth of this industry has been very gratifying, and the pace of growth is only going to increase. You can see that whenever you visit a dispensary. There is a growing demand for it, and a community of patients.”
Birnbaum’s voice remains on the Curaleaf answering machine and he retains a small share in the company. He referred questions to a New York public relations firm.
A spokesman for Curaleaf said Friday that the firm wants to comply with the regulations.
“Curaleaf is fully committed to complying with all rules and regulations governing our operations,” said the spokesman. “When the state raised concerns, we took immediate steps to remediate the issues, and our license remains in good standing with the Department of Consumer Protection.”
None of the investigations led to criminal charges or jeopardized the licenses of growers and dispensaries, which did not admit violations of the law or liability, according to the six redacted settlements provided to Hearst Connecticut Media. The DCP, which currently has three more incidents under investigation, said no tainted product reached consumers.
In all, $324,500 has been assessed from two dispensaries and two growers, including Advanced Grow Labs, which paid $6,000 following a March 1, 2016, report that said the company failed to maintain effective controls against diversion, theft or loss, did not keep accurate records and made deceptive public statements.
“We had a self-reported mislabeling of edibles,” said David Lipton, managing partner of the company. “We have really good regulatory protocols. Nothing was stolen. We put out additional actions.”
The entire corrective action for Advanced Grow Labs bakery operation was redacted in the documents released under the FOIA. Lipton signed the agreement on October 10, 2016.
Program is growing
Lipton estimates Advanced Grow Labs has harvested about 5,000 pounds of marijuana since the fall of 2014, when the first mature crop became available.
“We’re doing our part to get patients the medicine,” he said. About half of the crops Advanced Grow Labs sells to dispensaries are traditional flowers, and half are other products including extracts for vaporizing, tinctures for swallowing and edibles.
He said the last few months in particular have indicated a sharp increase in patients, who now number 17,686.
Michelle Seagull, acting commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, said Connecticut’s strict regulations that require pharmacists to work in the nine dispensaries, combined with cooperation from the industry, makes the program a national leader.
“We did a lot of work on the front end,” she said.
“We have the only true pharmaceutical model in the country,” said Seagull, a lawyer who drafted the regulations following the enactment of the 2012 law creating the nation’s 17th medical-cannabis program. Now 29 states have medical-marijuana.
“For the most part we have a tight model that everyone is taking seriously in a medical way,” said Rodrick Marriott, director of the drug control program in the Department of Consumer protection. He said there is no evidence of theft or misappropriation of marijuana.
‘A little excessive’
Mason Tvert, communications director for the Colorado-based Marijuana Policy Project, said the owners of Connecticut dispensaries and grow facilities have a lot invested.
“These are some of the most tightly regulated businesses in the country, operated by people who are entirely interested and motivated in these rules,” he said in a phone interview. “Those few who break the rules are generally punished.”
The settlements include $3,500 in fines for the Bethel-based Compassionate Care Center dispensary, including $1,500 for not obtaining permission from the DCP for alterations to their building, and $2,000 for a posting on social media that seemed to support recreational use of the drug.
Angela D’Amico, owner of the dispensary, said her staff moved out an appliance from a former kitchen when they gained occupancy, and that a social media consultant improperly posted a video before she ordered it taken down an hour later.
“I’m very proud of what we’re doing,” D’Amico said. “I wish more attention were paid to how well the patients are doing with the medication.”
The Waterbury-based Caring Nature LLC dispensary paid $5,000 for failing to provide business information, including records of transactions.
David Sullivan owner of the dispensary, said last week that he was five days late in filing a “lengthy” report due to the DCP at the end of 2016.
“I asked for an extension to prepare the report, but it was denied,” he said in a phone interview. Sullivan described the $5,000 settlement “a little excessive, but it’s the price you pay for being in Connecticut.”
h/t: CT Post