HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Advocates of Connecticut's new medical marijuana law are reaching out to entrepreneurs interested in growing, dispensing and starting related businesses, gauging the interest level for starting a new medical marijuana business organization.
About a dozen people, including some state Capitol lobbyists, turned out Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building for an organizational meeting of the proposed Connecticut Medical Cannabis Business Alliance, a concept modeled after a similar group in Colorado.
Eileen Konieczny, a registered nurse and medical marijuana consultant from Stamford, said she believes an alliance of medical marijuana businesses can help to educate Connecticut patients, doctors and the public about the benefits of the drug and the different forms of marijuana that can be used, ultimately combatting the stigma of pot smoking.
"The hardest thing I find now is, nobody wants to talk about it here on the East Coast. Everybody is afraid of it," she said. "I've talked to more than one person who didn't even know what cannabis was until I said marijuana, and then you get the giggles and the snickers. Meanwhile, this is very serious to me. It's a really safe alternative to so many different things."
As of Oct. 1, Connecticut patients suffering from certain debilitating medical conditions, such as AIDS and cancer, can apply to the Department of Consumer Protection for a temporary registration certificate, allowing them to legally use marijuana now for medical purposes, even though they still have to obtain the drug on the black market. Erik Williams, executive director of the pro-marijuana Connecticut NORML, said only 43 people have signed up so far, but he expects the number to climb once the entire program, including growing and dispensing operations, is up-and-running sometime late next year.
He predicted there could be 3,000 to 9,000 patients registered in the first year.
The department, meanwhile, is expected to submit regulations to the General Assembly by July 1. The legislation passed by state lawmakers limits the number of marijuana growing operations in the state to a minimum of three and maximum of 10, but did not spell out the number of dispensaries that can be located in the state. The law also did not include any details about possible medical marijuana products that can be produced, such as creams and foods that contain the drug.
Williams said he's concerned that some communities are already considering changes to their local zoning laws that would apply rules for adult-oriented businesses to medical marijuana dispensaries. He attributed such proposals to decades of fear about marijuana, something he said the business alliance could help to overcome by ensuring the industry will be operated professionally like other medical services.
"I think that when you're looking at cancer patients, patients with HIV-AIDS and saying, 'yeah, you need to go to the place right next to the strip club,' that's insulting in so many ways," he said.
Konieczny said there's a potential for more than 100,000 patients in Connecticut to use the state's medical marijuana law. That has prompted interest from everyone from entrepreneurs to attorneys about getting into the medical marijuana business.
Tracey Gamer-Fanning, president of the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, said she "can't imagine a better business to go in right now." She credits the drug with helping her handle brain cancer.
"This is huge," she said. "This will change the way that people deal with their illnesses."