The aroma of potential medical marijuana profits is drifting like a fragrant cloud across Connecticut, and companies and consultants from places like Arizona, Colorado and New York are already sniffing their way around this state.
Connecticut officials have already begun meeting with some of these operators, who are ready to spend millions to get in on the ground floor of the medical pot industry here.
Bill Malitsky, a lobbyists hired by Sweetwater Partners out of Denver, Colorado, says his clients were in for a sit-down with state Department of Consumer Protection honchos two weeks ago.
Sweetwater operates a legalized pot growing facility and two dispensaries in Denver, according to Malitsky. “They’re going to be back in a couple of weeks to meet with mayors and local officials,” he adds, pointing out that anyone intending to create a grow operation here will need to deal with local zoning regulations as well as with state requirements.
Gov. Dannel Malloy signed this state’s medical marijuana bill into law on June 1 and state officials are now working to figure out exactly how to create and regulate growing and dispensing pot to patients with medical needs.
The prospect of Connecticut becoming the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana already had potential investors around the nation drooling, not to mention hiring local lobbyists.
One of the latest interested parties is an outfit out of Arizona called Medbox Inc., which brought its specialized medical dispensing machine to a Pratt Street storefront in downtown Hartford this week to show it off to reporters and officials.
But the idea of a pot vending machine sent some horrified Connecticut officials into instant denial mode.
“It’s not going to happen here,” insists Michael Lawlor, chief criminal justice advisor to Gov. Dannel Malloy. “We’re not going to dispense beer from vending machine in Connecticut; we’re not going to dispense oxycontin from a vending machine; and we’re not going to dispense medical marijuana from a vending machine.”
Bruce Bedrick, a chiropractor and CEO of Medbox, says he understands where Lawlor and other Connecticut officials may be coming from on this issue, but Bedrick argues they simply don’t know what his operation is all about.
“Why I’m here is to help educate… patients and politicians,” he says as he stands proudly before his high-tech medicine dispensing machine.
“To call it a vending machine is not exactly accurate,” says Bedrick. He says the dispensing system he hopes to offer Connecticut officials would require the direct participation of pharmacists (as is required under this state’s new law), provides terrific security and allows computer tracking of how much medical pot each patient is supposed to get and how much has already been dispensed.
You’d need to have a doctor’s recommendation and get a pre-paid card to insert in the computerized dispensing gizmo, and you’d be ID’d using thumb-print reading technology.
Bedrick says he’s only here to “help Connecticut create the most secure, safe system in the country.”
It may take him a while to convince dudes like Lawlor, who says just the image of a marijuana dispensing machine would send the wrong sort of message about what Connecticut is trying to do.
Lawlor says perhaps the biggest hang up lawmakers in this state had about approving medical marijuana was making sure “it wasn’t going to turn into a regulatory joke like what happened in California” where pot shops seemed to be popping up on every street corner.
“It’s not going to happen here” has become one of Lawlor’s favorite phrases when it comes to discussing medical marijuana.
Malitsky says his clients are looking at the possibility of getting licensed to create a pot growing facility and also want to discuss having some sort of related dispensing operation. “I think their ultimate goal is to do both,” he says.
Setting up a growing operation won’t come cheap. “I would say you’d need a minimum of $1.5 million to $2 million,” Malitsky says.
Connecticut’s law authorizes state consumer protection regulators to license up to 10 growing facilities, and Malitsky believes they’re going to need to be “pretty significant in size” to provide the amount of grass Connecticut patients will want.
Colorado, which has a population of slightly more than five million, has about 1,000 licensed growing facilities, Malitsky points out. So Connecticut, with no more than 10 growing operations for a population of about 3.6 million, would presumably need considerably larger facilities to handle the demand for medical marijuana.
And the more pot there is for patients, the more money can be made by everybody, from the growers to dispensers to state and local tax collectors.
Ah, how sweet the scent of all that intoxicating medical marijuana money.
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