Medical Marijuana User Offers The Real Dope On Dispensaries

Recent proposals to build 2 medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport — at the sites of the former Bertucci’s and Blockbuster — have caused plenty of controversy.

They’ve also raised many questions — and led to many misconceptions — about medical marijuana in general, dispensaries in particular, and the laws surrounding both.

An alert “06880” reader — who uses medical marijuana, and who for health privacy issues prefers not to be named — writes:

In trying to dispel myths about medical marijuana dispensaries, it’s important to understand how they work. Some people think it’s like going to get milk. Others think legions of people will pour into Westport to use the facility.

There was even a suggestion that we move the dispensary downtown, to boost our economy. The idea was that many patients would buy their pot, then shop.

None of these are true. And none are possible.

To get a medical marijuana license, you must be pre-qualified by your physician. You then must see a state registered and licensed medical practitioner, who submits your paperwork.

The practitioner must see identification with your birth date, address and more. It’s like going to the TSA office for a pre-check or Global Entry card.

But you actually need more than that. You have to bring medical records, and at least 2 different pieces of first class mail addressed to you at the location where your driver’s license or passport says you live.

After the practitioner scans all this information, you pay. It’s a yearly fee. The license is good for only one year. Then you do the process all over again.

Here is the important part. When you go through all this, you must designate which dispensary you will use.

It is not the Wild West. You must pick one dispensary. Your license is valid at only one Connecticut dispensary.

Westport will be able to know — in real time — how many patients will use the dispensary. We will know exactly how many people are coming here to get medical marijuana. And we will know who they are.

Once all of this gets sent to the state, it takes up to 3 months to get your license (though temporary licenses can be received within 30 days). That is, if everything was scanned and submitted properly.

Before you set foot in the facility, you need to bring your regular ID (most likely a driver’s license) and your state-issued medical marijuana ID.

At the door, you put both IDs onto a scanner. The person on the other side takes a few minutes to verify your information. She takes a picture of you, and finally buzzes you in.

Each time you enter, a record is kept for the state — with your picture. It’s more like using your safe deposit box than buying a quart of milk.

Of course, there’s more.

Before going to the one location you have picked, you must make an appointment with the pharmacist at that dispensary. He goes over your medical condition with you, and makes recommendations. He also tells you what your per-month usage is.

There is a purchase limit every month. The amount is enough to treat the symptoms of your disease. I assure you, it is not nearly enough for a patient to become a pot dealer.

Medical marijuana is expensive. In fact, it’s about 3 times more expensive than the equivalent street value. It seems very unfair to the sick and infirm to be price gouged, but that’s the reality.

There currently is no price regulation. Allow that to sink in. If prices are crazy in Bethel, imagine what dispensaries will charge in Westport.

There will not be a steady stream of “riff-raff” coming into our town. Economics point to a much wealthier Fairfield County clientele using the facility. People will not go out of their way to come to Westport. They’ll go to the facility closest to them.

As for the facility itself, location is important. There must be enough handicap parking.

Is it possible to get medical marijuana without being seriously ill? Yes. Some people will skirt the law.

However, most patients are visibly, seriously ill.  Many have prosthetic limbs or oxygen tanks. They use wheelchairs and walkers.

Most people who go into a dispensary don’t even buy pot (as in, the plant). Smoking does not go well with most diseases. Instead they get oils, pills, strips for the tongue, tea or edibles (which are gross — they taste like you’re eating grass. Real grass).

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

So: no dispensary downtown. People getting medical marijuana are not shopping and strolling. They are sick.

If we really want to help people in need, the dispensary location must be well thought out. It should be in the back of the building. It isn’t right or fair to have seriously ill people hanging out on the Post Road waiting to get in, while everyone drives by and watches.

We need to stop thinking of a dispensary as dirty, and start thinking of it as a medical facility. Your kids are not strolling in to get pot. No one is. Dispensaries are so innocuous in appearance that unless we had this town-wide debate, you’d never know they are there.

Compassionate Care — a medical marijuana facility in Bethel,

So how come medical marijuana can’t be sold in a pharmacy?

A couple of reasons. One is that there is no price regulation.

Another is that it is not FDA-approved.

Also, according to federal law, all pot is illegal.

As for the concerns about what will happen If pot becomes legal. I have no idea. I assume Planning & Zoning will deal with it the same way they deal with wine shops, or people who want to open restaurants that serve alcohol.

But that isn’t really the issue. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not being set up in anticipation of legalization. Medical marijuana is completely different than recreational pot.

That’s not the discussion we should be having. Do we want to offer to help people now, in our town, or would we rather keep making people in need drive 40 minutes away to get relief?

That’s the only question you need to answer.

44 responses to “Medical Marijuana User Offers The Real Dope On Dispensaries

  1. Robert Mitchell

    Thank you for the thoughtful explanation. Were all controversial subjects handled this well these days.

  2. Nancy Hunter

    Finally, true information. Many thanks to the writer.

  3. Michael Turin

    The most important potential problem was completely missed. In a short time recreational marijuana will be legal in CT and there will be tremendous pressure to add such general sales to the existing medical outlets. The volumes/controls and traffic aspects will be totally different and totally undesirable. The way to stop the “camel’s nose into the tent” is to prevent the camel from showing up!

    • Nancy Hunter

      “Medical marijuana is completely different from recreational pot”.

    • Dave Stalling

      I fear it will be as dangerously chaotic as the overwhelming flood of shady undesirables now invading Westport to secure deadly, recreational alcohol from local liquor stores!

  4. Your pharmacy point did not make sense to me because most vitamins are also not FDA approved, but can, indeed, be sold in pharmacies.
    So I looked it up, and it appears to be a DEA issue for pharmacies, not an FDA issue. Here are three articles where I found some answers:

    https://www.inquisitr.com/1251089/wondering-why-you-cant-get-medical-marijuana-at-a-chain-pharmacy-read-this/
    http://www.pharmacist.com/article/pharmacists-take-medical-cannabis-dispensing-role-three-states http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/02/18/good-question-why-cant-pharmacies-sell-medical-marijuana/

  5. Arline Gertzoff

    This was very informative so a discreet but central location for medical marijuana is desirable .I suspect most people’s concerns are a proliferation of potshops If and when recreational pot is legal.Neither the old Bertucci location or the old Blockbuster location are the right location for this facility.

  6. Dan, I am grateful to you for keeping this debate informed and current. I believe that if CT does legalize recreational marijuana, that will result in the need for new separate regulations. The current regulations relate solely to medical marijuana and cannot be utilized for other separate uses. The time between passage of any permissive state legislation and corresponding local regulations can be significant and would doubtless create considerable interest. Much of the opposition to medical marijuana dispensaries in your recent posts and at the recent meeting of P & Z seem to me to be arguments against recreational marijuana outlets rather than medicinal marijuana dispensaries. I have yet to see or hear a credible argument that supports any logical difference between a CVS or Walgreens dispensing a plethora of controlled substances, including highly addictive opiates, and a medical marijuana dispensary that dispenses one controlled substance. I do not close my mind to the possibility that such an argument exists but if it does then I am unaware of it.

  7. Erica Holmberg

    Thank you for this post. It’s always best to start a conversation Based in facts instead of emotions.

  8. Wendy Goldwyn Batteau

    Thank you. I am so sorry for your illness.

  9. Thomas Bloch

    We can debate the issue until the cows come home. However I see no need for two facilities on the Post Rd. Why should Westport stick it’s neck out and have one of the only facilities in Fairfield County. Let one open in Norwalk or Fairfield and then we can watch the dynamics of these facilities. Mr. Turin is correct in saying that if recreational marijuana is legalized then Westport with potentially two facilities will become Westpot.

  10. Stephanie Bass

    Thank you for informing me about the perameters associated with getting and dispensing medical marijuana. It sounds like a tedious process that is very carefully regulated. I wish you and others in this community who need this medication good luck in making it easy to find comfort.

    Right now any kid in the school system can find someone to sell them pot. Any day of the week. I’m assuming it is the same for adults. No ID. No doctor. No license.

    This being the case, and it obviously being entirely different markets/customers for medical and recreational use, I don’t get the panic about the same facility dispensing to both groups in the future. Can you honestly see these 2 groups “shopping” at the same groovy {Note:I was around in the 60’s….} store?

    Chill.

  11. Terry LaHiff

    SERIOUSLY???

  12. Thank you for this article. Very important to outline the facts and provide a means to access for those with chronic illness. And, to remind all its 100% legal in CT.

  13. Thanks to you Dan, and to the anonymous author for sharing this. This is first and foremost about sick people being able to access the prescription medicine they need to manage their health issues.

    I hope that having this information and understandng the needs of these patients will help the people of Westport and the P&Z make an informed decision on this.

  14. Dermot Meuchner

    Thank you for the coherent truth about this subject. Well said.

  15. Richard Fogel

    wow, great report. I support the medical need. No need to be afraid of change.

  16. M. Benedetto

    Great reporting. Whether it happens or not, it’s for the people with pains or ailments or both – prescribed patients deserve an alternative to big pharma if they choose. We really don’t have a choice where these alternative drug stores “pop up or stay” just like our hometown Walgreens or CVS that sell much more destructive or harmful if you will for future consequence. I personally don’t care if one or two or a dozen are in our town. We, average healthy adults or parents, shouldn’t have to worry about alternative medicine. Unfortunately we call it alternative medicine when it’s mostly a ‘natural’ cure or alleviation-whatever you want it to be..
    I’m for whatever will comfort an ill patient to make ltheir life more comfortable.
    Cancer sucks.

  17. First, many thanks to the author for a thorough and unemotional view of the process. My sincere thanks to you for taking the time to enlighten the rest of us. I live in the area that is being discussed for both locations and have NO ISSUE with the proposed dispensaries. Everyone needs to just chill out and try to be compassionate to those who need this medicine. How would they all feel if we protested allowing them easier, local access to the medicines they required?

  18. Thank you for publishing this first-hand description. After reading it, I hope the P&Z approves a small discreet location with handicap parking, instead of the two (now theee) large prominent Post Road applications. The primary consideration should be accessibility for Westport patients to obtain their alternative medication. Period. This sort of location may not be profitable enough for an out of town corporation planning stores throughout the state. But it could be perfect for a local independent business owner to lovingly operate.

    • Richard Fogel

      who is afraid of liquor stores? stores that sell cigars? Fear is normal. Change is not easy.

      • I haven’t heard one compelling reason for large prominent dispensaries instead of a small discreet one.

  19. Alan Phillips

    I agree with Avi. We only one should allow (1).

  20. Michael Calise

    very good post and much appreciated. but the writer, as well, makes a potent argument for an accessible discreet location

  21. Luisa Francoeur

    I add my voice to those thanking the writer of this very informative post. The bottom line is to have as many dispensaries as are needed to serve the population who require this kind of medication for their illnesses.

    Why should it matter if someone comes to Westport because their own town does not offer this? If some are concerned about traffic, there are many reasons for our traffic woes and I think this will be the least of them. You have only to be on the Post Road when I-95 has an incident to understand one of the primary traffic issues.

    The siting only need consider access and safety in access and use.

    Fearmongers should not be allowed to warp this discussion.

  22. Adrian Hinojos

    Thank you Dan and the author for informing the public on Marihuana dispensaries. I support having a dispensary here in Westport. It doesn’t make any difference to me if it is whole in the wall, or in a prominent location.

  23. India V Penney

    First of all, to the anonymous author, I’m sorry for whatever causes you to seek the relief of medical marijuana. I hope you are able to find continued improvement.
    And secondly, to same author, thank you for your comprehensive and cogent explanations of the processes involved.

    I am 100% in favor of having a medical marijuana dispensary in Westport. I do, however, think we only need one until such time as it’s shown that one isn’t enough to fulfill the needs of our residents and of those immediately surrounding us.

    The comments this time, for the most part, have been thoughtful. The only thing I wonder about is the occasional use of the word discrete.
    If by a “discrete” location one means that it should be able to allow users to park in the rear and have an entrance in the rear because of their various infirmities — much the way “Westport Urgent Care” on the Post Road is set up — then yes, I agree.
    However, if by a “discrete” location one means that it should be hidden from public view because it is something shameful or dangerous … then I worry that there are still some who aren’t understanding the ethicality of medical marijuana and I hope there will ultimately be some way to reassure everyone that this isn’t something to be feared.

    By the way — I was out of town for a week. What happened on the March 15th P&Z meeting? Can anyone tell me?

  24. Here is an informative article published by Walgreens on Tumblr https://staywell.walgreens.com/post/143131696215/medical-marijuana. Maybe that is a toe in the water for Walgreens in anticipation that the federal regulations may one day be relaxed.

    Also for a summary of Controlled Substances Schedules from the DEA website, see: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/#list

    Note that both Schedule I and Schedule II substances have a “high potential for abuse”, which in the case of Schedule II “may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence”

    According to these definitions, the primary distinction distinction between Schedule I and Schedule II is that those substances in Schedule I apparently “have no currently accepted medical use in the United States” and have “a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision”

    Am I alone in detecting some double standards here?

    • Richard Fogel

      i just found out that military rifles are manufactured in Southport. How did the company get approval? I would encourage our citizens to research how it happened and what if any protests over the years are documented. Compare this to medical marijuana

      • Not according to Wikipedia: “The company is headquartered in Southport, Connecticut, and maintains manufacturing facilities in Newport, New Hampshire, Prescott, Arizona, and Mayodan, North Carolina. Ruger’s subsidiaries are Ruger Precision Metals LLC in Earth City, Missouri, Pine Tree Castings in Newport, New Hampshire, and Ruger Sportswear & Accessories in Mayodan, North Carolina.”

        • Richard Fogel

          i guess the gun manufacturer in Southport is fake news? What is the building there for? What are the benefits society receives from assault rifles?

          • Richard, you said the guns were “manufactured” in Southport. That’s not true. The headquarters of the company is there, But the manufacturing facilities are elsewhere.

            • Richard Fogel

              correct. The address of 3 Lacey Pl Southport has an apparent gun repair shop called Gunsmithing. People bring guns from all over the state for repairs. The point is the building is used to promote the sales of deadly weapons. There are also 2 other local stores to help promote guns, Hansen and Hansen in Southport and Fairfield County Firearms in Norwalk. My point is that our community is surrounded by weapons of mass murder and compare that to licensed medical drug for illness. Thank you for your correction. Richard.. I request that a military rifle assault weapon owner explain to our community the benefits of such a weapon.

  25. Sharon Paulsen

    Our planet earth (naturally, and by default), provides an abundance of healing properties, for humans and animals alike … and at our ready and disposal.

    To regulate and limit any “plants” by law, is, in my opinion, only to serve towards our human detriment and demise.

    One should never have to “hide” from seeking relief for pain, nor fear any retribution or judgement for it.

    Great article to share here, Dan!

  26. Danielle Teplica

    If the anonymous writer were the applicant for a new dispensary, I would be quite optimistic that it would be realized in a manner that met the needs of the patients without inadvertently sending the wrong message to young people in town (i.e., marijuana is a benign choice for you). The writer’s description sounds very reasonable! However, what the actual applicant for the former Blockbuster/DXL space is proposing is to use half the space for a dispensary called “Botanicals” (Why a name that sounds like it’s trying to attract business?) and half for a wellness spa. Her business plan depends on attracting the public to the spa side (blurring the distinction of this being alternative “medical” treatment for the specific needs). She estimated drawing 100 patients a day to the dispensary side.

    Whereas the writer empathetically describes the needs of the physically infirm patients many of whom struggle with mobility, the applicant’s attorney stated that there are two handicapped parking spaces at the location and that IF P&Z REQUIRED IT, they could add more handicapped parking spaces. (Compassionate?) Additionally, he repeatedly stated that, by design, customers would have to walk far from the door of the dispensary along the perimeter of the lot by public sidewalk to the other (spa) side of the building so that the spaces would be legally separated. (Reasonable planning for the infirm?)

    Like many parents in town, I did not speak to the news that two dispensaries had been approved in town because I accepted the decision and assumed it would be realized well. I imagined small dispensaries providing the drug to the prescription holders and minded my own business. I reacted strongly only later when I read of the proposed locations — both overly large buildings that typically house businesses positioned to draw street traffic.

    Yes, many of us have asked that the locations be more “discreet.” When I use this word, I am not insulting patients who use marijuana as alternative treatment. It’s none of my business what prescriptions anyone has filled. It’s a Planning and Zoning issue (like the YMCA location was), not a name calling issue. To me, a discreet location is a location that is not one of the large store fronts that are placed to draw customers from the Post Rd or Main Street. I wouldn’t put my refrigerator in my bathroom, and I wouldn’t put a marijuana dispensary in one of those big buildings on the Post Road. It should be in a different, smaller place, convenient for the patients.

    It is important that the teenagers in our town continue to get the guidance from adults that marijuana and other drugs are not benign choices for them. Opening a big, prominent marijuana-related health business near the schools contradicts that message too much. That’s one of the reasons the location matters. A well chosen location that is specifically designed to meet the needs of those for whom it is intended would be, yes, more discreet — attract less attention, little controversy, just like the refrigerator in my kitchen.

  27. Valerie Port

    So interesting that so many want to know why medical marijuana can not be sold in a pharmacy. Perhaps that day is not too far away and we have several of those in town, CVS, Walgreens, Colonial, Achorn, Shoreline, etc…And when it is legal to sell in a pharmacy what will everyone’s argument be then? Non-addictive medical marijuana being sold along side addictive opioids, I know I will have the same conversation with my children, medicine is for sick people and be happy you are not sick.

  28. Bobbie Herman

    A very informative post. I hope it will make some of the naysayers think and reflect.

    Maybe some of you remember about 35 years ago, when a brash loud-mouthed man named Arnie Kaye wanted to build a video game facility. The town erupted into hysteria — it would bring crime into Westport; it would bring drugs; all sorts of terrible things would happen if he built it. And what happened? Arnie’s Place was run as cleanly as could be. There were even smoke detectors in the bathrooms to prevent kids from smoking pot (or anything else). Arnie even had a deli and an ice cream parlor with delicious food and Belgian chocolates. They were spotless. I remember being there one evening at about 11:00 and Arnie himself was polishing the chrome on the ice cream stools. He wasn’t exactly a model citizen, but none of the terrible things forecast ever happened.

    Maybe some of you remember a few years later when a group of parents suggested building a playground at Compo Beach. OMG!!! It will ruin the view! The wood will have arsenic in it! And worst of all –they’re going to bring busloads of kids in from BRIDGEPORT!!! Today, the playground is one of the highlights of Compo. And it delights many children and their parents.

    I think it would be helpful if those panicking against the medical marijuana facilities stepped back and studied the situation more carefully. So many things that seem frightening at first turn out to be perfectly harmless when actually created.