April 24, 2014 11:37AM
By Mary Ellen Godin
The competition will be stiff, with about 40 companies having applied to grow or sell medical marijuana in Connecticut, including two groups with local ties that hope to do business in Meriden.
Jerry Farrell Jr., a Wallingford lawyer and former state Consumer Protection commissioner, hopes his partnership with River Rock of Colorado will be among the first in the state to grow and process medical marijuana, from 500 S. Broad St. in Meriden.
Greg Hancock, owner of Hancock’s Pharmacy, has applied for a license to dispense medical marijuana from an addition he is building at the rear of his pharmacy at East Main and Gravel streets.
The applications were due Friday and the Department of Consumer Protection is expected to make its decision in early January. The department is expected to approve three production facilities and eight dispensaries.
“I think it’s going to be a hard thing,” Farrell said. “All of these (applications) are lengthy. There is a lot of material.”
Farrell said his company, doing business as Central Connecticut Health Ventures, submitted an application of 1,200 pages, which included answers to the department’s questions while highlighting the partnership’s strong points.
Farrell said those strengths are “trust and talent.”
“Those five years as commissioner helped me develop the regulatory experience,” Farrell said. “It means absolute compliance with the law.”
Farrell said he has a proven record of enforcing standards to ensure products are safe.
“I went after all those kinds of things, E. coli, salmonella, asbestos,” Farrell said. “I’m a big advocate of making sure the manufacturing process gets products to the consumer unadulterated and uncontaminated.”
He also praised River Rock as among the top three medical marijuana producers in Colorado and emphasized its focus on the medicinal side of growing cannabis.
“I did a lot of research to determine who to partner with,” Farrell said. “They are developing strains where they are removing the psychotropic out of the marijuana so patients get the medicinal benefit without intoxication. They are the most medically focused. We have a very strong application.”
Hancock, whose family has owned Hancock’s Pharmacy since 1959, hopes to open a dispensary at 29 Gravel St. He has already won site-plan approval to build a closed-shop pharmacy, dedicated to serving the more than 200 long-term care facilities it has as clients.
Hancock’s work with hospice clients led to his interest in medicinal marijuana dispensing, he said. He had conversations with Farrell, and they agreed the 500 S. Main St. location is not zoned or suited for a dispensing operation.
“There are a lot of good things going on here, not like the wild west,” Hancock said. “Our plans are great. It’s time to keep going.”
Both Farrell and Hancock met with the city’s director of development and enforcement, Dominick Caruso, who signed off on Central Connecticut Health Ventures’ proposal to the state.
According to attorney Dennis Ceneviva, who represents Hancock, Caruso wanted to see the dispensary operation attached to a pharmaceutical venue, if not directly operating from the drug store. Ceneviva said the completion of the closed-shop pharmacy would solve that concern. The state application only asked that the use not be prohibited.
“There are a lot of regulations,” Ceneviva said. “The dispensary has to be owned by a separate entity with vaults and safes, and they have to provide counseling.”
There was also the question of the dispensary’s being within 1,000 feet of Maloney High School and whether that puts the application at odds with federal drug laws. But Ceneviva pointed out that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has recently said the federal government will not interfere with any operation approved by the states.
Representatives from the state Department of Consumer Protection could not be reached Tuesday to clarify the issue.
If approved, the South Broad Street operation hopes to hire 50 people with 65 percent coming from Meriden. The numbers could increase if more medical diagnoses are added to the statute that allows treatment by cannabis. Those determinations are made by a panel from the DCP and doctors, Farrell said.
The foray into medicinal marijuana growing and distribution is a pioneering enterprise for Farrell and Hancock but one they both feel strongly about, they said. Relieving pain through alternative medicines for those stricken with cancer or dying is foremost in both men’s minds, they said.
“It’s different,” Farrell said of his new enterprise. “It’s one of those things if it’s done right it can help a lot of people. If it’s done wrong, it can close a lot of doors.”