7/11/2015 - State trying to recruit more medical marijuana doctors By Ken Dixon Connecticut Post June 21, 2015 | PDF With only a small fraction of the state’s doctors participating in Connecticut’s medical marijuana program, the agency that’s running it has begun a public-service blitz. The goal is to break... read more »
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New (Legal) Cash Crop in Connecticut
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.
“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.”
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Medical marijuana’s first product, jobs
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.
Since 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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (CDCP) Medical Marijuana Program
Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes, Chapter 420f, Section 21a-408, patients who are currently receiving medical treatment for a debilitating medical condition set out in the law may qualify for a registration certificate.
To qualify, a patient must also be at least 18 years of age and a Connecticut resident. Each patient may also register one primary caregiver if the need for a caregiver is documented by the patient’s physician.
The registration certificate application is available online and registration involves a three step process:
- Step 1: The physician initiates the registration process by logging into a secure, online system and certifying their patient.
- Step 2: After the physician electronically submits a valid certification, their patient can access the online system to complete the patient portion of the application.
- Step 3: If the physician certifies the need for a primary caregiver, the caregiver can log in after the patient, and complete the application.
Connecticut Medical Marijuana Laws & Regulations
American’s for Safe Access: www.safeaccessnow.org
On May 31, 2012, Connecticut became the 17th state in the US to approve medical cannabis when Governor Dan Malloy signed HB 5389, “An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana.” The bill passed both the Connecticut House and Senate by substantial margins, 96-51 and 21-13 respectively. The Act provides patients and caregivers protection from arrest when using or handling medical cannabis in accordance with the law. Protections only apply to registered patients and caregivers. Patients and caregivers may purchase medical cannabis from dispensaries that are licensed by the state. Dispensaries will not be open for business until at least sometime in 2013, however, patients may still register with Department of Consumer Protection (DCP).
Final regulations for Connecticut’s medical marijuana program were issued on September 6, 2013, in accordance with Ch. 420f, Connecticut General Statutes. These rules pertain to patients, caregivers, physicians, and dispensaries. The first of six original dispensaries opened in September 2014, and the state is expected to license three additional dispensaries in 2016.
Patients should familiarize themselves with the regulations, as they cover areas beyond what is in the statute, such as limiting patients to register with a single dispensary location at which they may purchase medicine.
Regulations: Regulation of the Department of Consumer Protection Concerning Palliative Use of Marijuana