SOUTHINGTON — A Calendar House bus service policy against bringing riders to medical marijuana dispensaries was reversed this week after an opinion from the state Department of Transportation.
James McCorkle, a North Main Street resident, got his medical marijuana license in June. He asked for senior bus service to the dispensary in Bristol but was told that the federal money used to partially fund the purchase of the buses prohibited it.
Since then, he’s used the United Way senior bus services or solicited rides on Craigslist.
“They wouldn’t take me anywhere near there,” McCorkle said of the Calendar House bus.
In a statement, Calendar House director Robert Verderame said he asked the state Department of Transportation if transporting riders for medical marijuana prescription pickups would violate the terms of the federal grant.
Marijuana use is illegal under federal law.
According to Verderame, the DOT advised him earlier this year against dropping off patients at dispensaries. During a call this week, Verderame was told that there was no issue with using federally funded buses to help patients fill medical marijuana prescriptions.
Town officials “were told that a dispensary run is no different than a doctor’s office and we are not allowed to ask our clients what prescription they plan on filling. Therefore, our new protocol requires us to transport when the request is in our geographical area,” Verderame said in his statement.
The federal bus grant was administered by the DOT. Department spokesman Kevin Nursick said there’s no issue with trips to dispensaries and couldn’t find a record of the department’s advice to the town earlier this year.
“We went through our records, talked to people in our unit who handle this kind of thing,” he said. “We did not give that direction… We don’t have any documentation or any staff that recollects that.”
McCorkle was rear-ended in 2004 on Interstate 84 and suffered a back injury. His initial pain management plan was 40 milligrams of OxyContin but was soon up to 500 milligrams a day plus other medications.
“I was trapped in an addiction to opioids,” McCorkle said.
After a six week detox at home, he applied for his medical marijuana card and received it. Marijuana helps more quickly with the pain without the addiction, according to McCorkle.
“Opioids take an hour to kick in and a lifetime to kick out,” he said.
Town officials and groups grappled with the issue of medical marijuana most recently when two different applicants wanted to apply for license to open a dispensary in town. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved one on Knotter Drive and voted down one planned for Queen Street. Those votes prompted the commission to appoint a subcommittee that will review the town’s regulations on where it allows dispensaries.
The Knotter Drive location still has to be approved by the state Department of Consumer Protection before it can open.