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.
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).
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.
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.