Posts Tagged ‘David Lipton’

The Brookings Institute – 420 Series of Articles – A Visit to Advanced Grow Labs

April 25th, 2015

| SERIES: 4/20 series

420 Series - Medical Marijuana in CTDuring my recent trip to study Connecticut’s medical marijuana system, I wanted to see its regulatory apparatus in action. I had studied Connecticut’s medical marijuana policies from afar, and wanted to get a better handle on how regulations impact the day-to-day operation of the system. I’m not a medical marijuana patient nor am I a Connecticut resident.  So, I could not experience the regulations from the consumer perspective, and opted instead to see marijuana regulations from the perspective of a marijuana producer.

Advanced Grow Labs dispensary

Photo credit: John Hudak

I visited one such producer, Advanced Grow Labs (AGL) in West Haven, CT. Ironically located up the street from the city’s police department, AGL is quite unassuming, but the impact of state marijuana regulations were readily apparent. In fact, the regulations were obvious prior to my visit. Because I am not an employee of AGL, the company needed prior approval from the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) in order for me to visit.

The company’s sign is small—the state regulates the size of the sign for dispensaries and the production facility sign fits those parameters. Security—a topic the state prefers the details of which not be discussed in detail—was substantial including security staff, buzz and keycard systems, and blanket video surveillance—all to keep safe a type of facility and product which raises fears of external and internal theft.

Once inside—save a dull scent of cultivating marijuana—the company looked like any other business: a conference room, offices for senior staff, cubicles for junior staff. While largely unremarkable, that is a story rarely told about the cannabis enterprises—just how normal they look and function. With the exception of the facility holding substantial amounts of a product that is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, it looks like any other business.

I first met with David Lipton, managing partner of AGL. He’s a businessman as mainstream as the look of his office space. He’s not a lifelong marijuana advocate. He was not drawn to the business by some ideological force. He saw a business opportunity and pursued it.

One of the few individuals in the state of Connecticut who is legally allowed to grow marijuana, his original success comes from owning outpatient surgical facilities—some of which offer abortion services. Lipton is certainly no stranger to regulation or controversial public policy.

From the start, I was curious to hear an owner’s perspective of running a business in one of the most tightly regulated product markets in the United States. To my surprise, Lipton was bullish about the system. He freely admitted that it took time, expertise and patience to get acquainted with all the rules and regulations that would govern his new enterprise, but noted “it’s a great program and a great model.” He went on to add that he “believe(s) in a highly regulated environment” for the medical marijuana market and that everyone participating “needs to have their A-game.”

Business owners often lament the burden—and added costs—that government regulation puts upon their enterprises, and Lipton was not shy to admit regulation slowed processes and added costs. However, he echoed an appreciation that the rules sought to advance legitimate goals. Those goals include limiting diversion and underage consumption, increasing product quality and safety, and protecting patients.

The conversation covered substantial ground around the topic of the interaction of regulation and business—normally a dry topic but one central to an enterprise’s success or failure. Two topics struck me with particular interest.

Escrow Requirements

Lipton discussed the startup costs for a grow facility. Under state laws and regulations, a company must deposit $2 million dollars in an escrow account in order to qualify for consideration as an operation. An enterprise must pay steep application and licensure fees. They include a non-refundable $25,000 application fee, and if approved, an additional $75,000 fee. Lipton described the escrow account and other provisions as a “safeguard,” but also noted it creates barriers for “mom and pop businesses” to enter the market.

In reality, those barriers to entry are profound, limiting the market to well-financed operations. Lipton went on to note those costs were incurred entirely separately from a business’ standard startup costs—construction, personnel, supplies, utilities, etc. It makes opening a marijuana enterprise in Connecticut a cost-intensive effort, requiring substantial capital and typically relying on teams of investors to buy in (unless they have “M.D.” after their name, as physicians are barred from having financial interest in a marijuana enterprise).

It should be noted, for anyone reading this post, if you’ve organized a few million dollars and are ready to put skin in the medical marijuana game in Connecticut, think again. The state has set caps on the number of growers and dispensaries in the state, and those current caps have been met and are holding firm. Thus, a small community of businesses—four grow operations and six dispensaries—serve a relatively small consumer market—3,635 registered patients.

Pre-clearance regulatory compliance

In order for AGL—or any marijuana producer in Connecticut—to bring new or original products to market (make them available to dispensaries), they endure a rigorous, costly, and time-consuming pre-clearance process. Lipton explained this process with regard to new strains of flower, extracts/oils, edibles or any other new product they produce. Before it can be sold, a certified, external testing company must visit the producer, take random samples of the product and subsequently test it for chemical composition and concentration (THC and CBD levels) and for pollutants, toxins, or other contaminants. Once that testing takes place and if the product meets the necessary standards, the lab issues a certificate of analysis. The company then transmits that certificate of analysis, a proposed label, a description of the product, photographs of the product and its packaging, and other necessary administrative materials to the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP). DCP can deny, approve, or require changes. The latter often leading to a back and forth process between the state and the firm. Final approval is required prior to transfer to a marijuana dispensary for sale.

The process provides the state, the producer, and the consumer relevant information about the product and assists in dosing. However, such a process draws into stark contrast competing pressures in the regulatory system around medical marijuana.

There are clear benefits to such a rigorous process in terms of product quality, product safety, consumer knowledge, and labeling accuracy. The pre-clearance for products helps prevent errors, rather than relying on a regulatory system that simply responds to errors.

Yet, there are costs to this type of system. Lipton explained that there are financial costs for lab testing and personnel time devoted to such compliance efforts, and such costs are naturally passed along to the consumer at the point of sale. In addition, fixed costs for such regulatory pre-clearance can encourage production of larger batches of product, rather than small-batch production. Small-batch production has increasing appeal in an industry working to distinguish products in a competitive marketplace. Finally, because only new products are subject to this process (the production of existing, tested, and approved products do not), such pre-clearance can stifle entrepreneurial innovation by incentivizing firms to rely on pre-approved products in lieu of new development. Regardless, the state and marijuana enterprises weigh such costs and benefits each day, as Connecticut medical marijuana market gets off the ground.

The discussion of regulatory compliance was an interesting one, but my experience with regulations did not end there. Soon, my tour of the grow facility began. Before it did, however, a costume change was required. Like on any research endeavor, I arrived at the facility in business apparel, but wearing those clothes on the tour violated state regulations. Soon I was in pocket-less hospital scrubs, rubber shoes, and a hairnet. The lack of pockets prevents diversion; the rubber shoes avoid slippage; the hairnet was required because I would enter the commercial kitchen in which edibles were produced (more on Connecticut’s edibles will come in a post tomorrow).

Video cameras littered the facility to ensure that every cubic inch of space was captured on film. Every room in which marijuana product was kept had a clearly marked sign and required an employee to use a keycard to access. As a visitor, I could not be left alone in the space.

As I was introduced to AGL’s staffers—many of who were young and seemingly eager employees (a team Lipton praised even behind closed doors)—those who handled product wore gloves. If they shook my hand, the gloves were replaced, as many of the spaces were as sterile and maintained as clinical settings. Entering a grow room, an employee who was tending the plants explained in detail the state ban on pesticides and other chemicals in grow rooms.

As the tour proceeded, it seemed every aspect of the business was regulated—some major and some minor. I asked frequently about different aspects of business practice, and almost every time the justification or explanation for that practice was compliance. Having read the authorizing legislation and subsequent DCP regulations, I knew that Connecticut’s medical marijuana regulatory apparatus was substantial, but it is not until you experience it in person that you understand its breadth.

That is not to critique this system. Many of the problems other states have experienced in areas like product quality, diversion, potency, dosing, and edibles have not yet cropped up in Connecticut. While the system is quite young, one would expect front-end problems to be more likely than problems arising in a mature system. Much of that may be due to the regulatory decisions—however pervasive—that the DCP has made. In fact, the very pervasive nature of the regulatory system may be its strength.

For perspective, I asked Lipton if he traveled to other states to see what their practices were like and if much could be learned—particularly for someone who asserted having no prior knowledge on marijuana cultivation. He said that he traveled and observed what he called “western models” and that he knew his business had to be dramatically different because such practices “wouldn’t pass muster in Connecticut under (its) regulations.”

From the outside looking in, it takes quite a bit to pass muster in Connecticut, but four marijuana producers and six dispensaries do so on a daily basis. I would argue it is an open, long-term question whether the Connecticut system can displace the illegal market and drive patients to use legal means to access marijuana. However, in the mean time, Connecticut’s marijuana producers operate under an immensely structured set of rules and regulations, and they’re still able to do what’s fundamentally necessary for an indoor marijuana grow operation: keep the lights on.

New (Legal) Cash Crop in Connecticut

June 2nd, 2014

New (Legal) Cash Crop in Connecticut

The Wall Street Journal
By Joseph De Avila
June 2, 2014 | PDF | Online Article

Employees reporting for work at some plants will be required to change into scrubs. Then, they will pass through a room that will emit blasts of air to remove contaminants brought in from the outside. Computers will control temperature and humidity in the plant-growing areas, where an air-filtration system will screen for molds and pests.

David Lipton of Advanced Grow Labs - The Wall Street Journal“We aren’t just growing plants in a warehouse,” said David Lipton, the founder of Advanced Grow Labs in West Haven. The company is spending $2.5 million to retrofit a portion of a 62,000-square-foot building where it is the primary tenant. “We really are like a startup pharmaceutical company.”

Mr. Lipton, who operates a chain of women’s health clinics, is one of four growers licensed by the state, with sales generally expected to begin by late summer. The others include a former Wall Street executive and a former equities trader now disabled who says he wants to jump-start an industry he says can bring pain relief to others like him.

The producers are putting the finishing touches on buildings in Simsbury, West Haven, Portland and Watertown where they will cultivate the marijuana for the 2,000 patients in the state qualified to use the drug.

Besides the growers, the state picked six companies to run dispensaries that will sell the drug to the public.

Under a 2012 state law, Connecticut has set up what has been hailed as one of the nation’s most tightly regulated programs for medical marijuana. Lawmakers sought to avoid the path of early adopters such as California, dispensaries have proliferated across the state and prescriptions for the drug are relatively easy to come by.

Under Connecticut’s law, a licensed pharmacist must work at every dispensary. And, unlike California, where patients can get prescriptions for ailments such as migraines, Connecticut limits the availability of medical marijuana to people with 11 debilitating conditions. Included are HIV, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Some producers, such as Curaleaf, in Simsbury, also will be making medicine that patients can take in capsule or droplet form.

“When you think of that 80-year-old cancer patient…is smoking what they want?” said Robert Birnbaum, chief executive of Curaleaf and a former Wall Street investment manager.

Although state officials say they don’t plan to add any additional producers or dispensaries in the near future, that prospect still concerns some Connecticut cities and towns. Many communities have passed ban on future medical marijuana-related businesses.

On Tuesday, Bridgeport’s Zoning Commission voted for a year-long moratorium on medical marijuana businesses, citing safety and security concerns. Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who supports medical marijuana, backed the move, said his spokesman Brett Broesder.

“There is a lot of angst with these new experimental dispensaries,” Mr. Broesder said.

Whether the state decides to license additional dispensaries and producers will depend on the number of qualified patients who sign up and where they live, said William Rubenstein, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, which regulates medical marijuana, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies in the state.

Mr. Rubenstein said his department didn’t have an estimate of the number of patients.

“Once product is on the shelf, we expect the patient population to bump up,” he said.

Ethan Ruby, the chief executive at Theraplant, a marijuana producer in Watertown, said he estimated that the number of qualified patients would rise to between 5,000 and 6,000 by the end of December—and to 10,000 after a year of sales.

Mr. Ruby, a former equities trader, was hit by a car 14 years ago in New York City. The accident left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Several years later, he began using marijuana to alleviate his pain.

“The little bit of relief that I got showed me that there is medicinal value in this plant that needs to be studied,” he said.

The price of the marijuana to patients hasn’t been set, but producers say they expect the cost of their product to be somewhat comparable to the drug’s price on the black market. Insurance companies won’t be paying for it.

The state will use testing to ensure patients get a consistent dosage whenever they use the same marijuana product. Producers cannot label two marijuana products with the same brand name unless they share the same active-ingredient profile within a 3% range.

“They are more stringent than any state thus far,” said Genifer Murray, chief executive of CannLabs, a marijuana-testing lab in Denver that wants to open a lab in Connecticut.

Ms. Murray said it was unclear if producers can consistently meet this requirement since they will be growing plants—not making synthetic pharmaceuticals.

“We always have to operate within the art of the possible,” said Mr. Rubenstein of the Department of Consumer Protection. “It’s important that patients know what is in the medicine they are taking and in what proportions.”

Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

 

Medical pot bringing jobs

June 1st, 2014

Medical marijuana’s first product, jobs

By Ken Dixon
Published 10:32 pm, Saturday, May 31, 2014 | PDF

Months before any cannabis-based products will reach patients, Connecticut’s new medical-marijuana industry has already created hundreds of jobs — in construction.

Former factories are being reconfigured into secure pharmaceutical facilities for the growing, harvesting, curing and preparation of various strains of marijuana that should be delivered to the state’s dispensaries by early fall.

Medical Marijuana bringing jobs to ConnecticutSince the state awarded four marijuana producer licenses in January, an estimated $20 million has been committed to the West Haven, Watertown, Portland and Simsbury buildings that in a few weeks will begin growing thousands of pounds of pot.

“As far as we know, folks are busy building out facilities, getting ready to produce product,” Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said in a recent interview. “They have six months to become operational.”

In a West Haven industrial zone parallel to Interstate 95, David Lipton, managing partner of the Fairfield-based Advanced Grow Labs, is supervising the conversion of 26,000 square feet of space that will house sterile laboratories, heavily lighted grow areas and budding rooms that will promote marijuana flowers, the part of the plant with the highest concentration of active ingredients.

During a tour of the sprawling, noisy one-story building last week, more than a dozen electricians, sheet-rock experts and other subcontractors worked to transform the space. The biggest construction surprise came, Lipton said, when his structural engineer announced the roof wasn’t strong enough to support the heavy-duty HVAC equipment needed to create an optimal growing climate, as well as the planned ceilings and rows of grow lights.

Steel roof beams have since been reinforced to handle the anticipated load and special, moisture-resistant sheetrock will line the walls.

Advanced Grow Labs is one of a series of new projects that are bringing economic growth, said Joseph A. Riccio Jr., commissioner of development for West Haven.

Last year, city building permits brought in $800,000 to the city, but in the first five months of this year, the total has already topped $1 million.

He said the medical marijuana industry is obviously fostering jobs while the region still recovers from the recession.

“This is a good boost for tradesmen,” he said during a phone interview last week. “Every job is a good job.”

Growing taxes

Lipton estimates his company has invested about $2.5 million in construction and equipment, employing dozens of workers at a time, from structural and mechanical engineers, to steel fabricators to sheetrock installers, tapers, masons, electricians and plumbers. Those workers are generating Worker’s Compensation and payroll taxes for the state.

“There’s definitely a positive effect on the economy,” he said, adding various building and work permits from West Haven generated revenue for the city and that once up and running, the company will also pay personal property taxes.

It was on Advanced Grow Labs’ cold, then-empty manufacturing floor, that Rubenstein and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy introduced the four producers who had been selected from 16 applicants.

“In early April we got our full building permit and then the construction began and in about seven weeks we’ve completed an incredible amount of work here,” Lipton said. “Hopefully, within the next few weeks we will complete some more and by early July, mid-July we will be done with construction.”

From there it will be about 90 days to harvest.

“We know we’re doing the right thing here,” said Lipton, adding that it may be a long time before his multi-million-dollar investment is recouped. “We’ll do our best to make the best product. This is a long-term business. I mean, how often do you see a start-up pharmaceutical company threaten Big Pharma?”

High-end kitchen

Lipton’s grower, Klaus Polttila, standing near what will be employee locker rooms, looked around at the building renovations and thought of the future.

“Growing is the easy part,” Polttila said. “Once the construction is done, we’ll ramp up very quickly.”

Other rooms will be used for drying and curing marijuana. The front entrance near Frontage Road features bullet-proof glass and a security nerve center. Toward the back of the building, in a room with a large walk-in safe, will be the kitchen, where the medical-grade cannabis will be ground up in a process unique to the nation. An outside laboratory will be contracted to test batches to assure they contain the percentage of active ingredients allowed in state regulations.

The marijuana will be packaged for secure delivery to the six designated dispensaries. While traditional dried marijuana will be ready to be smoked, Lipton is planning a variety of other products. Extracting machines in the kitchen will remove chemically active oils from marijuana for use in smokeless vaporizers, baked goods and topical salves.

Thirty-two miles to the north, in a hilltop Watertown industrial park near Route 8, Ethan Ruby, CEO of Theraplant, is supervising a similar conversion to a 63,000-square-foot building, about half of which will be renovated for initial production. The operation will have a 900-square-foot safe for storing market-ready material.

Ruby, who heads the state growers’ association, said his company has invested about $8 million, nearly half of the estimated $20 million the four producers have spent for the initial phases of operations.

On a recent day, Ruby counted 73 workers on-site, including landscapers, sheetrock installers and electricians.

“It’s going well,” Ruby said in a phone interview. “Our team that we put together has been incredibly diligent. The construction company has been on time and on budget during every single phase. And we couldn’t be happier with local building inspectors, fire, police. Couldn’t be happier. Patients should have product by the end of the summer.”

Laboratory science

Theraplant will not have a kitchen to create baked goods, but does have plans for extracting the THC and other cannabinoids that are the plants’ active ingredients. About 2,000 patients have registered so far, with ailments including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDs, Crohn’s disease and epilepsy.

Ruby has contacted laboratories that will be required to test batches of harvested plant material, but it’s too soon to sign agreements, he said.

It’s too soon to determine what marijuana will cost patients, but Lipton and Ruby both said they will seek to make it competitive, or cheaper than the underground market. The website priceofweed.com rates Connecticut’s market at $300 to $400 per ounce. Participants in the medical marijuana program will be able to purchase up to two-and-a-half ounces per month.

Vaporization of the drug will likely become the preferred delivery method, Ruby said, allowing patients to inhale the chemical compounds without actually smoking the material.

“The more health-conscious will be gravitating toward this,” Ruby said. “And doctors and pharmacists will be better able to control prescribed amounts.”

He feels good about the producers, including CT Pharmaceutical Solutions in Portland and Curaleaf in Simsbury, and their ability to meet market demands.

“Each cares about getting medicine to the patients in a controlled way,” he said. “As a producer, I’m not trying to grow a better strain than David Lipton. We’re in competition with people who don’t believe this is going to work.”

kdixon@ctpost.com; 860-549-4670; twitter.com/KenDixonCT; facebook.com/kendixonct.hearst; blog.ct news.com/dixon

 

Medical Marijuana: More Patients, More Products, Low Profile

May 2nd, 2014

By Kenneth R. Gosselin
Hartford Courant
April 19, 2015 | electronic

Susan Gilchrist once took nine different medications to ease the chronic pain and fatigue of her multiple sclerosis.

Gilchrist, 32, is now off all those drugs, finding more relief, she says, than she has in more than a decade, now that she uses just one alternative drug: medical marijuana.

“I disassembled my shower chair, my cane is in the garage and my walker is in the basement storage,” Gilchrist said. “I can wake up and get out of bed. I don’t have to lay there for any amount of time for pills to kick in.”

Halfway through its first year, the state’s medical marijuana program has about 3,600 registered Connecticut residents, more than doubling from last fall — but still far below 20,000, by one manufacturer’s estimate, who could be served by existing medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries.

Manufacturers are shipping a growing number of products to dispensaries. The list started with what could be smoked but has expanded into oils for vaporizers, tinctures, strips that dissolve under the tongue and “edibles” such as cookies and cupcakes.

 Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut for six months. Courant photographer Mark Mirko got a behind-the-scenes look at where the marijuana is grown and produced, as well as how one patient uses the drug.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut for six months. Courant photographer Mark Mirko got a behind-the-scenes look at where the marijuana is grown and produced, as well as how one patient uses the drug. (Mark Mirko)

The state may add more conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana, and it already has eased its restrictions on raw buds. Buds up to the size of a dime can now be sold, a change in the initial requirement that they be ground up to ensure consistency.

The program still remains relatively low-profile, however. Doctors generally remain hesitant to recommend treatment to patients without more research.

In Tolland, Gilchrist — the mother of two teenagers — never thought she would become an advocate for medical marijuana. She didn’t smoke for fun, not liking the feeling. For months, Gilchrist resisted the urging of her husband, Colin, that she try medical marijuana.

“I gave in and finally tried it, and I found that I can relieve 90 percent of my symptoms with just marijuana,” Gilchrist said. “I started slow and increased every day. After a couple of months, I felt less high and just well.”

Gilchrist hasn’t spoken publicly until now about her use of medical marijuana. Gilchrist said she is well aware of criticism that patients taking medical marijuana are using their illness just to get high. Even within a Facebook community of MS sufferers with 18,000 members nationwide, Gilchrist said, there is a sharp divide on its use.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says it supports MS sufferers working with doctors to potentially use medical marijuana, where legal. Some MS patients have reported relief from their symptoms and research suggests that marijuana has the potential to manage the symptoms of MS, the society says.

“Additional research is needed and should be initiated to better determine the possible role [marijuana] could have in treating MS symptoms and helping people with MS to live their best lives,” according to a policy position statement provided by the society.

The society also is supporting clinical trials of different forms of marijuana products to test success in treating chronic muscle stiffness.

Gilchrist said she knows medical marijuana isn’t a cure. But the pain and muscle stiffness that had confined her to bed for days — sometimes months at a time — is receding into memory.

“This program has changed my life,” Gilchrist said. “The more people that know, I feel like we can change things, and that is my hope.”

Feeling better has encouraged Gilchrist to take better care of herself. She quit cigarettes and now has a healthier diet. She no longer struggles with prescription drug side effects that were sometimes worse than the ailments they treated. She said that often she could not take care of her home, her family or even walk the dog.

Gilchrist has been unable to work for eight years, but she is now considering going back to school to pursue a career in massage therapy.

“She’s a mom again,” Colin Gilchrist said. “She’s a wife again. She’s not just a patient.”

Inside The Grow Rooms

Sixty miles to the south of Gilchrist’s home, in West Haven, Advanced Grow Labs LLC, one of the state’s four medical marijuana manufacturers, is now shipping orders twice a week.

During a recent tour of the operation, managing partner David Lipton stressed that production meets the standards of a traditional pharmaceutical company within a complex framework of state regulation.

“Even though it is starting out as a plant, the end product is pharmaceutical,” Lipton said. “It’s tested, there are certification and analysis reports.”

The growing rooms — each focusing on a different stage of the plant’s life — hum with the sound of dozens of fans. Keeping air circulating guards against outbreaks of molds and other diseases that could wipe out a crop.

Lights in one room mimic the late summer sun and force plants to produce buds. Utilities in each of the four growing rooms alone cost $5,000 a month to operate — an example, Lipton said, of what makes medical marijuana manufacturing so expensive.

Advanced Grow Labs could produce 250 pounds of marijuana buds a month, Lipton estimates. But consumer demand in Connecticut is not even close to making those levels necessary.

Lipton walked alongside benches where dozens of marijuana plants are maturing in pots, a process that takes about 4 months. Lipton says you can tell when buds are ready to be harvested because hair-like “trichomes” on the bud containing the plant’s active ingredients — THC being the most well known — will begin to turn an amber color.

He stops at one plant. “Smell this,” he said. “It’s a very earthy plant. We sell a lot of this. It’s called ‘Tangerine.’ It has a smell that’s lemony.”

Lipton pulled a loupe out of his pocket and looked through it, peering at the plant’s trichomes.

“Ah,” he said, “this one is getting ambery.”

Oils, Drops, Edibles

Advanced Grow Labs is aggressively pursuing the development of different products, well beyond what is smoked.

“We’re now making a honey,” Lipton said. “You take a teaspoon of honey and add it to your tea and you have your medicine. And we’re doing a hazelnut chocolate spread. Some people don’t want to smoke. These are other options.”

In South Windsor, Prime Wellness of Connecticut — one of the state’s six dispensaries — opened last fall with product offerings that barely filled a page. Today, there are five pages with not only what is smoked but oils, waxes, drops and edibles.

Consumer traffic at the dispensary got a lift after the state allowed dime-sized buds to be sold in Connecticut, said Brett Sicklick, the dispensary’s director of operations.

The products offered are wide-ranging, Sicklick said, some with little to no psychoactive effects, the “high” typically associated with marijuana use.

Prime Wellness now has 450 registered patients, more than double the 200 or so when the dispensary opened last fall. The dispensary’s goal for the first year is 800 patients, he said.

“The reality is, I don’t believe anyone in this program is meeting their necessary number to break even on a monthly basis, suppliers and dispensaries,” Sicklick said. “We all knew it wasn’t going to get into the black quickly, so we planned accordingly.”

Sicklick added: “There’s definitely still a ways to go, but we are getting new patients registered every week.”

Prices Drop Slightly

A nagging worry from the outset was the price of medical marijuana compared with the cost of buying it on the street.

The tightly regulated industry, including sophisticated security and testing, pushes up costs for both manufacturers and dispensaries.

The state’s goal was to provide better, consistent quality products in a competitive environment that would eventually drive down prices.

The website priceofweed.com, which compiles user-reported entries anonymously for marijuana purchased on the street, gives an average current range of $266 to $334 an ounce in Connecticut, depending on quality. Based on 28 grams in an ounce, that would be roughly $9.50 to $12 a gram.

Sicklick said some medical marijuana prices are starting to move lower. For instance, one, 3.5-gram dried bud product initially sold for $64, or about $18 a gram. The price is now $50, or about $14 a gram. The earlier price included sales tax, but the most recent doesn’t — sales tax was eliminated on medical marijuana, Sicklick said, as of April 1.

Susan Gilchrist, the medical marijuana user in Tolland, said she is paying between $14 and $20 a gram for her medical marijuana.

Gilchrist said estimates that she is paying double at her dispensary compared to what is paid on the street. But it is worth it to her because the quality is consistent. Trouble is, insurance doesn’t cover her roughly $400-a-month costs for medical marijuana.

“I could get any other medicine covered, but not this one,” Gilchrist said. “So it’s hard to budget. Prices are coming down. But it is going to be slow.”

200 Doctors Sign On

When the state legislature legalized medical marijuana in 2012, it ended a wide-ranging sale ban in Connecticut that dated back more than 80 years.

Culturally, there is still resistance to medical marijuana, and some towns — the latest being Harwinton — continue to oppose medical marijuana outlets within their borders.

Jonathan Harris, commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, said his agency is working to ease any stigma attached to medical marijuana and to convey that it is legal in Connecticut. The department also is emphasizing that the industry is heavily regulated, just like any other pharmaceutical drug.

“We’re not Colorado. We’re not some of the western states,” Harris said. “This is not about recreational use, but medicine giving people relief.”

Harris said his department also is out talking to physicians and in the next two months will launch public service announcements online targeted at doctors.

Initially, 11 medical conditions qualifying for medical marijuana were approved: glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue in the spinal cord or intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

More may be added, including sickle cell disease, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and recurring back pain after surgery. Also, lawmakers may pass legislation to permit medical marijuana to be used by patients under the age of 18.

Doctors, who must register with the state to certify that patients qualify for medical marijuana, generally remain reticent. Only a sliver of Connecticut doctors — about 200 of the 10,000 practicing in the state — have registered.

The overriding concern, one doctors’ group says, is the lack of research.

“There isn’t any scientific basis that medical marijuana has the identified benefit for treatment of those conditions, or that it is more effective than what is now being prescribed,” said Matthew Katz, chief executive of the Connecticut State Medical Society, which has 6,000 members.

The legislature is considering funding studies. Dispensaries are collecting data to determine what works best for which conditions.

And even though medical marijuana has made a tremendous difference in her life, Gilchrist still worries about public perceptions.

Gilchrist doesn’t use her medical marijuana if her children’s friends are coming over, and she stores it in a combination safe in her bedroom.

“People are still on the fence about it,” she said. “Some people are still very much against it. It’s hard having kids. You don’t know what the other parents are going to think.”