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Ed Stannard, Register Citizen
In October 2013, Barbara paid $150 to have a doctor certify her need for medical marijuana, plus $100 to register with the state Department of Consumer Protection.
This month, she will pay another $250, without having been able to buy the legally grown cannabis until this fall.
“When I first got (the registration card) last October, I was under the illusion that … (dispensaries) should be opening shortly,” said Barbara (not her real name), who has glaucoma and arthritis. “I was under the assumption that the dispensaries would be open and I paid to participate.”
The medical marijuana program was approved by the General Assembly in 2012, but the growing facilities and dispensaries were not approved by Consumer Protection until this year and the product didn’t become available until September. The first growing facility to open was Theraplant in Watertown.
William Rubenstein, commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, said the law called for early registrations and that having the card last year offered immunity from arrest to anyone possessing or using marijuana.
“Patients got an advantage out of that,” he said of registering early. “It was a compassionate judgment of the legislature. … By registering, (patients) got that immunity.
“We were very clear with patients,” Rubenstein said. “The supply would not be available until summer 2014. We kept both patients and the public advised.”
Rubenstein said he thought most patients decided not to register until this year, anticipating being able to buy marijuana from the state-approved dispensaries.
“They never told me that,” said Barbara of the legislative immunity. She said she hadn’t bought marijuana from unapproved sources. “I haven’t because I don’t like to buy anything illegal,” she said. “It was never explained that I could go buy illegal pot. I don’t even know where I could find it!”
Barbara plans to use medical marijuana to treat symptoms of glaucoma and both rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis. “What I’m trying to do is cut down my use of narcotics,” she said.
Physicians may certify patients for 11 conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and Crohn’s disease.
Matt (also a pseudonym) was prescribed medical marijuana for chronic back pain caused by muscle spasms. His registration card permits him to buy 2.5 ounces (70 grams), per month. He paid $178.65 for 10 grams at Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut in Branford, one of six dispensaries in the state, but said he normally pays $12 or $13 per gram in Rhode Island, where he buys it illegally. (Patients certified in Connecticut are not eligible for Rhode Island’s program, according to the Rhode Island Health Department.)
Nick Tamborrino, CEO of Bluepoint Wellness, said his price “is a little above market value but not off the chart.” There are 28 grams in an ounce, so Bluepoint Wellness’ price comes to $500 per ounce, compared with the street price of $340.75 quoted by priceofweed.com for “high quality” marijuana.
Tamborrino also said he expects his prices to drop. A second company, Curaleaf of Simsbury, will have its product for sale within 10 days, he said, and its price list is lower than Theraplant’s.
“It’s really not the dispensaries that are creating these prices,” he said. “It’s the individual grower. Our hands are tied.” Tamborrino would not say what he pays on the wholesale level.
The commissioner said prices are not regulated by the state. “Competitive forces will provide appropriate pricing for consumers,” he said. “We have heard that people feel the price is high at the beginning of the program.
“We’re expecting the price to move downward,” Rubenstein said. “The market and competition in the market will ultimately set the prices. The product that they get from our system is pharmaceutical grade.”
Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance.
Matt said he wouldn’t mind the price if the quality was high, but the marijuana he received, supplied by Theraplant, was full of stems and seeds. Matt thought he’d be receiving ground-up buds, which are the most potent part of the plant.
“If this is being grown in a warehouse … I should be getting the cream of the crop,” Matt said. “I’m outraged that there are seeds in it.” He suspects the whole plant was ground up, stems, seeds and all, and that customers are getting “the hot dog stuff, the scrapings off the floor.”
He also said he suffered dizziness and dry lips from the medical marijuana he bought, effects he’s not felt before.
Theraplant is the first of four growing facilities to offer its product at wholesale, and Bluepoint Wellness is one of six retail dispensaries, the only one in the New Haven area. Theraplant did not return a call seeking comment.
Tamborrino said Matt sent him a photo of the cannabis he received at Bluepoint Wellness that showed a lot of stems, but that he’s not allowed to open the marijuana packaging. “When I see pictures like that, am I satisfied? No,” Tamborrino said.
Registering also is not a simple process, requiring an online “Business Network Account” (biznet.ct.gov) through the state Department of Administrative Services, the same site where state contractors register.
Both Matt and Barbara received their certifications through Dr. Judith Major of Monroe. Both said they were charged $150. A message was left with Major’s office, but not returned.
Barbara said that when she first inquired about the medical marijuana program, she was told of only two doctors who certified patients: Major and another in West Hartford. According to marijuanadoctors.com, a third practices in Glastonbury. Neither Rubenstein nor Audrey Honig Geragosian, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Medical Society, knew of any lists of doctors who are certifying patients.
It may be difficult for patients to find a doctor willing to certify them because of the conflict between state and federal law, which considers marijuana an illegal Schedule 1 drug, along with LSD and heroin.
The state medical society opposed the medical marijuana law, Geragosian said, but now takes the position only that it wants to protect its members. “The society is not going to be in a position to have any of its members prosecuted,” she said.
According to Connecticut’s regulations, any doctor in good standing who is authorized to prescribe Schedule 2 drugs, such as Percocet or Ritalin, may certify a patient to receive a medical marijuana card, said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access.
“There is no registration process, as there is in a handful of states,” Hermes said. Fear of retribution “could result in patients shopping around for physicians who are willing to discuss the issue and make a recommendation,” he said.
Hermes said that in California, “there are listings of doctors that are known to recommend marijuana. Those types of services could occur in Connecticut … It would certainly help if a listing like that was made public.”
So far, however, no such listing apparently exists and doctors are recommended by word of mouth.
State Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, is a member of the legislative Judiciary Committee, which approved the medical marijuana bill before it was passed by the General Assembly.
“The problem is that for many patients, it can be difficult for them to find a doctor who is even willing to provide them medical marijuana in the first place,” Albis said in an email. “It is literally a game of trial and error, going from physician to physician and asking them in private about their willingness to provide certification. There are certainly doctors out there that do provide certification, but with no data about them, they can be hard to find.”