CT medical marijuana dispensary opens

Lillian Childress, Yale Daily News

A few years ago, Nick Tamborrino never would have imagined that he would one day be the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary.

Now, Tamborrino — who was previously employed as a pharmacist at both Bridgeport and Yale-New Haven health systems — owns Bluepoint Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary that serves over 350 patients in Branford, Conn. The dispensary, which opened its doors on Sept. 22, is the sixth in the state to open since Prime Wellness began operating in South Windsor at the end of August.

“The more I researched about this, the more I was intrigued,” Tamborrino said. “I think we’re going to see tremendous breakthroughs in the next few years.”

Tamborrino added that he chose to open the dispensary in Branford because of the location — the clinic is on the outskirts of the city, and Branford is close to Yale-New Haven hospital and Smilow Cancer Hospital, both places that Tamborrino hopes Bluepoint can build partnerships with in the future.

Although the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in Connecticut has been legal since 2012, dispensaries have only completed the full licensing process within the last few months.

According to Michelle Siegel, deputy commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, the regulatory framework for medical marijuana and its dispensaries is almost identical to that of any other over-the-counter drug. Each dispensary registered is required to go through a rigorous process of licensing, inspection and employee background checks.

In order to qualify to use the dispensary’s products, a patient must be a Connecticut resident over the age of 18 and have one of 11 approved conditions, including cancer, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. After receiving a physician’s approval, the patient can register on the state’s website to receive a medical marijuana registry card, Siegel said.

With this card, a patient is free to buy marijuana from a licensed dispensary in Connecticut, in the form of ground flour as well as in tinctures, edibles and oils, Tamborrino said. While all six dispensaries are currently in operation, Director of Operations at Prime Wellness Brett Sicklick said these dispensaries receive the marijuana from only one grower, Theraplant, located in Watertown.

However, medical marijuana is not covered by insurance providers, making the use of marijuana somewhat cost prohibitive for lower-income patients, especially those who were previously taking medications that were covered by insurance, Sicklick said.

Sicklick added that, in the future, he hopes that the price will drop so that more patients can have access.

Right now, Tamborrino describes his patients as being at “two extremes”: those who have never used marijuana, and those who have been self-medicating with the drug for years and are just now seeking a legal channel through which to consume it. Tamborrino noted that the split between these two types of patients is around half and half.

Although there was an initial rush when the Branford dispensary first opened, Tamborrino said he projects a steady rise in demand as doctors feel more comfortable recommending the drug to their patients.

However, some argue that medical marijuana still has hurdles to overcome before the drug can expand its popularity.

“Marijuana is still a very much stigmatized substance,” said Kris Hermes, media specialist for Americans for Safe Access, a grassroots medical marijuana advocacy organization.

But Tamborrino said he is not worried — after 13 years of experience in the pharmacy profession, he thinks the model for setting up dispensaries actually mimics the model of the pharmaceutical industry.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 23 states.