Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Open In Connecticut
The Healing Corner in Bristol is one of the few medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. They started to serve patients Monday. (John Woike / Hartford Courant /September 22, 2014)
Oct 7, 2014
CT Now - Medical marijuana hit the shelves in Connecticut just two weeks ago, but there's already been a push to change state regulations about how the medication is sold to chronically ill patients.
"Our Plant, Our Right," an online petition, seeks changes that would permit the sale of medical marijuana in its whole-bud form. State regulations only permit the sale of medical marijuana processed and manufactured into an array of products, including what can be smoked, vaporized, swallowed or eaten.
"They could offer us a choice or just give us the whole bud like every other state [that has a medical marijuana law] does," Peter Mould, the North Haven resident who launched the petition, said. "You don't go into a steakhouse to get pre-chewed steak."
Grinding dries out the marijuana, introducing too much air and too much heat, reducing the overall effectiveness of marijuana, Mould and others signing the petition argue.
The first sales of medical marijuana in Connecticut
got underway Sept. 15 under stringent regulations that have been compared with what would be required for a pharmaceutical company. The regulations require processing of marijuana grown by licensed manufacturers and testing to ensure that patients receive a consistent medication.
But Mould argues those regulations go too far. He said the "homogenization," or grinding up, of the plant during medical marijuana manufacturing — central to the state's regulations — compromises the quality of the products finally reaching patients.
And it is pushing up the price, making it unaffordable for some patients, Mould said.
So far, Mould, also a board member of Connecticut NORML, a nonprofit marijuana lobbying group, has collected more than 450 signatures since launching the petition in June. He said he will submit it to the state Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the fledgling medical marijuana program in Connecticut, if he is able to collect 1,000 signatures.
The sale of medical marijuana buds is commonplace in other states, with "smelling jars" filled with the buds an iconic image for the industry. But those are absent in Connecticut, and all the products — so far limited to what can be smoked or used in a vaporizer — are packaged at the manufacturer.
William Rubenstein, commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, said the intent of the regulations, which followed legislation passed nearly two year ago, was to create "product, measure, label and inform patients of the active ingredient of the product."
Homogenization was crucial to the process because it allowed for testing — required for all batches — that would guarantee consistency in what patients purchase at dispensaries.
"We think, on balance, knowing the active ingredient profile is more important and replicating that choice from month to month and week to week," Rubenstein said. "We don't believe we can properly test and label the whole bud."
Scientific studies of the medicinal benefits of marijuana are still in their infancy. But some who have signed the "Our Plant, Our Right" petition say the processing required by the state introduces too much handling, too much air and too much heat, all reducing the effectiveness of the medical marijuana.
"Anybody who has smoked marijuana knows that marijuana quickly degrades after it has been ground up," said Matt Organek, 29, who is looking to medical marijuana to treat insomnia connected with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Organek, who lives in Portland, has looked forward to medical marijuana coming to Connecticut. His insomnia, he said, often made him late for work at his family's plastic injection molding company. He found that marijuana helped him sleep through the night.
Organek looked forward to the advent of medical marijuana sales in Connecticut, but he was quickly disappointed when he learned whole bud wouldn't be an option.
"No one on the street ever offered up ground-up pot," Organek said.
Mould, who has used marijuana to treat spinal muscle spasms, points to plenty of information on the web. One source, the Harborside Health Center dispensary in California, which sells whole buds, offers a set of four rules for their care. "Rule #3: air will dry it out and lessen its potency."
All the handling during processing can disturb or knock off delicate parts of the bud containing cannabinoids, one of the active ingredients in marijuana, Mould said. (THC is probably the best known.)
And the part of the plant responsible for marijuana's aroma that works in concert with the other active ingredients can be weakened, others say.
"If you separate some of these main ingredients of the crude plant, it loses its 'ensemble' effect," Allen St. Pierre, executive director at the national headquarters of NORML in Washington, D.C., said. "And that's not desirable by patients.
In Connecticut. medical marijuana is approved by the state to treat 11 debilitating medical conditions: cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue in the spinal cord or intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rubenstein acknowledges that the plant is certainly "disturbed" during manufacturing. But mandatory testing for every batch that eventually will be produced by the state's four licensed manufacturers will make for no guess work in what patients are sold, Rubenstein said.
"When you have the product homogenized and labeled, you know what exactly is in the product," Rubenstein said. "From bud to bud, the active ingredient profile can change."