HARTFORD -- Buying pot on Main Street in Bridgeport -- and doing it legally -- came a step closer to reality Thursday as the medical marijuana movement goes mainstream in Connecticut.
The state announced the winners of six dispensary licenses out of 27 applicants, including one in the city proposed by two Trumbull women.
These fledgling dispensaries will be able to offer patients suffering from debilitating illnesses a smorgasbord of ways to ingest the drug, from the raw vegetative form to oils, extracts, capsules and transdermal patches.
Angela D'Amico, co-partner in D&B Wellness, said she received the good news about their application for 2818 Main Street in Bridgeport in a phone call from Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein.
"We are ecstatic," said D'Amico, a Trumbull resident like her business partner, Karen Barski. "We know we're the right people. I've put almost four years into this. I have been researching and seeing miracles before my eyes. It has been an amazing ride."
She and Barski have 30 days to complete local approval for their dispensary proposal. The Planning and Zoning Commission is likely to vote on a permit later this month. Without it, D&B, which is based in Monroe, could lose the license.
Some neighbors of the Main Street property -- a former library -- hope that happens.
"It just seems anything goes in Bridgeport," said Bobbie Simmons, who runs an accounting practice in a building next to the proposed dispensary and does not want a "dope factory" as a neighbor.
"Bring it to Bridgeport, they will take it," Simmons said.
Mayor Bill Finch's administration has, unlike other municipalities, sought to work with the new medical marijuana industry in finding suitable locations in the city. The mayor's office struck a cautious tone Thursday.
"We thank the Department of Consumer Protection for their hard work on thoroughly vetting these six dispensaries, including one in Bridgeport," spokesman Brett Broesder said. "However, we understand that the community is concerned and has a lot of questions, which is why D&B Wellness is currently being vetted by the community through the city's Zoning Commission. The commission will make a final determination on what is best for the Park City through this inclusive process."
The medical marijuana industry is burgeoning nationwide, and 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the growing, sale and purchase of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Nicholas Tamborrino, a Fairfield pharmacist, won the license for Bluepoint Apothecary, which has a location at 469 East Main Street in Branford. Tamborrino is a former clinical pharmacist at Bridgeport Hospital.
Other dispensaries, whose applications were reviewed by Rubenstein's staff over recent months, were approved for South Windsor, the Uncasville section of Montville, Hartford and Bristol.
The state's 1,990 registered patients could get their first packages of cannabis by the summer in the state's innovative pharmaceutical-medical model that's the first of its kind in the nation.Read Full Article
"With the selection of dispensary facilities, all necessary pieces of the medical-marijuana program are in place and we are poised to provide patients with a safe and secure source of needed medicine," Rubenstein said in a statement.
In January, Rubenstein approved four growing facilities that were required to put up $2 million in escrow accounts, plus $75,000 for the licenses and $25,000 for the applications, of which there were 16.
The dispensaries had much-lower hurdles to clear, including $1,000 applications and $5,000 licenses. Eight of the 27 applicants dropped out in recent weeks for reasons including a failure to find locations. Most of the winning dispensaries have direct relationships with pharmacists, who are required under state law to direct patient services.
Rubenstein in an interview said that the dispensaries will set standards for security in providing medical cannabis in the variety of forms that will be delivered from the growing facilities. The dispensaries cannot open the packaged cannabis from growers, and patients will not be allowed to open packages or use the marijuana in the dispensaries.
"This is a different set of skills entirely from producers," Rubenstein said, stressing that each dispensary had to summarize their qualifications in five pages. "Largely, these are the same kind of people opening your local neighborhood pharmacy."
He said that while some producers applied for dispensary licenses, none were chosen.
"We evaluated the business wherewithal of the applicants, their site plans and security features, their ability to satisfy patients' needs, their business plans, their delivery systems, the training that personnel will receive, proposed marketing plans, financial plans, organizational structure, employee benefits, compassionate-need plans, community benefits and substance abuse programs," he said.
D'Amico said she hopes the state license will help sway Bridgeport zoning commissioners, who hosted a lengthy public hearing on the application Monday that drew numerous opponents.
"Don't you think ¦ the city would say, `Wow, they got awarded (a license)?" she said. "We're the right people for the job and the state of Connecticut announced we're the right people for the job."
Zoning Commission Chairman Mel Riley said he personally believes the state license is a separate issue.
"We're dealing with a zoning matter," Riley said. "Whether they were selling Juicy Fruit or marijuana, it's a zoning matter."
That's how Councilwoman Michelle Lyons, D-134, a vocal opponent of the dispensary, feels as well.
"I don't have a problem with medical marijuana. The problem is the location," Lyons said. "Bottom line: The Zoning Commission said their job was to make a decision if this fit the neighborhood ¦ Let's make decisions on zoning."
Raymond Rizio, a zoning lawyer who represented D&B at Monday's zoning hearing, said technically when the commission votes, it can only take into account the evidence presented to them at that time.
"But (the state license) certainly gives validity to our presentation where we indicated the professionalism of our clients and the safeguards they will implement to make this the appropriate place for such an enterprise," Rizio said. "People look at this as, `Why Bridgeport?' I think Bridgeport in this instance should be happy to have such a ground-breaking treatment available."