MERIDEN – The city’s first medical marijuana dispensary says it has been welcomed with open arms by the community and city government.
“Through the whole process of (dealing with different city departments), it’s been phenomenal. You expect to get problems and we didn’t. Especially with this kind of an industry, you always expect problems,” said Mary Morgan, manager of Willow Brook Wellness, 1371 E. Main St.
Willow Brook Wellness, which opened in April, was among nine new dispensaries approved in December for the state Department of Consumer Protection’s medical marijuana program. With the latest approvals, Connecticut’s marijuana program will have 18 dispensaries and four growing facilities.
One of the growing facilities, CT Pharmaceutical Solutions, recently obtained local approval to move its operation from a 20,000-square-foot facility in Portland to a 170,000-square-foot facility on Research Parkway. If the relocation is given approval by the state, Meriden would become the only municipality with both a dispensary and growing facility approved by DCP.
While some municipalities, including Wallingford, have taken a stance against allowing medical marijuana dispensaries because marijuana is currently illegal under federal law, other communities are embracing the new industry.
“We really have not had a single negative experience with anyone in the city. It’s very different in other towns,” Morgan said.
City Planner Renata Bertotti said she considers the growing facility an example of new age manufacturing that can fill buildings left vacant by traditional manufacturing.
“I find this type of use to be sort of the cutting-edge production that we’re seeing now,” Bertotti said earlier this year. “Industrial uses are changing and the old style industrial types of things that we all think about are on their way out.”
Morgan, who previously managed another dispensary in Connecticut before leaving to open her own, said the dispensary in Meriden fills a need in the area.
“When you look at a map of the state and you map where all the other dispensaries are, there were certain areas that were just underserviced -- Middletown, Meriden,” she said. “There’s nothing here. Most of our patients who had been in the program have had to drive 35 to 40 minutes each way.”
The majority of patients the dispensary has seen since opening have been from Meriden, Middletown, and other bordering communities.
“Patients are just ecstatic that we are here because they don’t have to travel distances for their medication that they need,” said Morgan’s partner, Lead Dispensary Kirstin Ruck, a Meriden native now living in Wethersfield.
Morgan declined to say how many patients the dispensary is seeing, saying the information is “proprietary” – but added they’ve been pleased with the numbers. Patients must have one of about 30 debilitating conditions to qualify for the program and be recommended by a doctor.
Morgan, a pharmacist for over 30 years, got into the medical marijuana industry in 2014.
“You have much more one-on-one contact with patients in this versus behind a traditional pharmacy counter,” Morgan said.
When new patients arrive, a pharmacist meets with them to go over symptoms to determine the best form of cannabis.
Products sold at dispensaries are broken down into one of four categories – topical products, like cream or lotion, that are absorbed through the skin; flower or oil products that are heated and inhaled; capsules, tablets or edibles that are absorbed in the stomach; and sublingual products, like droplets or dissolvable strips, that can be absorbed in the mouth.
Cannabis used in the products is grown at the state’s four growers, which Morgan said typically grow one large “mother plant” and take “cuttings from that plant and make other plants.”
The manufacturers take a very meticulous approach to growing, measuring every detail through the growth process.
“They record everything. They’re very, very scientific,” she said.
Once the plants are harvested, they’re sent to one of a few labs in Connecticut that test for different psychoactive compounds called cannabinoids.
Different strains contain differing amounts of cannabinoids and are prescribed accordingly, Morgan said. A strain with a high content of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which causes a sense of euphoria, is commonly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, while CBD, or cannabidiol, does not create a “high” but has been shown to be effective in treating symptoms like seizures and pain.
The dispensary on East Main Street follows strict security guidelines set forth by the state. No one is allowed to enter the dispensary area unless they are a patient with a card for the program.
The dispensary currently employs three pharmacists, including Morgan and Ruck, along with six technicians. The dispensary will add staff down the road as needed, Morgan said.
“It’ll be hopefully soon, but we’ll see,” Morgan said. “We’ll see how it goes, and what the (patient) numbers pan out to be.”