Published August 08. 2014 2:24PM Updated August 11. 2014 11:19AM
Montville — State Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said he expects the state’s six medical marijuana dispensaries to open in September, when the first shipment of product is expected from Theraplant LLC, one of the state’s four marijuana producers.
He said other producers are expected to start shipping product in later months.
State-licensed medical marijuana dispensary Thames Valley Apothecary LLC, in Uncasville, is now scheduling appointments but won’t open until after Labor Day, according to the dispensary’s principal officer, pharmacist Laurie A. Zrenda of East Lyme.
Zrenda said 145 customers with medical marijuana cards have registered as patients at the facility, which is still under construction. She said she plans to hold three informational sessions this month for doctors, media and public officials at the new storefront, located in a strip mall at 1100 Norwich New London Turnpike.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the use of medical marijuana and a lot of people with questions about the program,” Zrenda wrote in an email Friday announcing the sessions scheduled for Aug. 12, Aug. 20 and Aug. 21.
Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel and Town Council Chairman Joseph Jaskiewicz said that they are most interested in learning about security of the facility. Jaskiewicz said his main concern was security from theft.
McDaniel said he plans to tour the facility separate from the scheduled open houses, with Montville Police Lt. Leonard Bunnell, Resident State Trooper Sgt. James Smith, and possibly other law enforcement personnel.
“It’s going to be highly regulated and very, very controlled,” said McDaniel.
Zrenda said the dispensary contains a lobby that the public can enter. Only those registered as patients of the dispensary will have access beyond that point.
The pharmacist explained that medical marijuana patients must first register with the state and can be registered with only one dispensary at a time. She said restrictions on registration with dispensaries are intended to help the dispensaries keep track of how much product each individual patient purchases.
Kayvan S.T. Khalatbari, one of the owners and founders of medical marijuana dispensary and consulting firm Denver Relief, said that the window area where patients check in with their driver’s licenses and medical marijuana cards would work similarly to a bank teller window. Denver Relief is consulting Zrenda on the new facility.
Khalatbari said there would be intake forms as in any doctor’s office, and patients’ first appointments would be “get to know you” sit-downs.
Zrenda is the girls’ varsity tennis coach at East Lyme High School and currently works at Rite Aid in Uncasville. She said she became interested in opening a dispensary after she heard of another pharmacist applying for a permit. She ended up attending a conference on medical marijuana in Chicago, where she met Khalatbari.
She said she has long dreamed of running her own pharmacy and that she sees the apothecary as her chance. Her niece Meredith Elmer, also a pharmacist, will be her partner at the dispensary.
“The small, independent pharmacy is kind of going by the wayside,” Zrenda lamented.
She said she viewed marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol, but that she was satisfied with the plant currently being approved only for medical use. She said she is watching Colorado to see the impact of legalization for recreational use.
“As a drug itself, it’s less dangerous than alcohol,” she said, though she cautioned that smoking and driving was not safe.
Khalatbari said Zrenda is somewhat unique among owners of dispensaries in that she is not entering the marijuana industry with an industry insider. He said that the entry of an established pharmacist such as Zrenda into the medical marijuana field is reflective of the fact that the stigma surrounding the drug is subsiding.
“We’re starting to see people from traditional industries, traditional backgrounds, coming in,” he said, noting that Zrenda has 25 to 30 years of experience.
Connecticut is the only state that requires dispensaries be run by pharmacists, according to Rubenstein. He said the state currently has roughly 2,000 registered patients.
According to DCP, patients must have one of the following conditions to qualify for medical marijuana in the state: cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, certain kinds of nerve damage, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other than the apothecary, companies approved as dispensaries are Arrow Alternative Care Inc. of Hartford, Bluepoint Apothecary LLC of Branford, D&B Wellness LLC of Bridgeport, Prime Wellness of Connecticut LLC of South Windsor and The Healing Corner Inc. of Bristol.
Rubenstein said that the dispensary in South Windsor planned to hold a grand opening Aug. 20, though it will not yet be dispensing product. The facility in Branford has already announced it will begin selling pot next month.
“We’ve been waiting, as patients have been waiting, for a long time for this program to get up and running,” said Rubenstein.