Almost Here: Medical Marijuana in Branford

An exterior view of Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut at 469 East Main Street, where the pharmaceutical staff is set to begin counseling patients later this month. The state-licensed facility will begin dispensing medical marijuana in mid-to-late September.
An exterior view of Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut at 469 East Main Street, where the pharmaceutical staff is set to begin counseling patients later this month. The state-licensed facility will begin dispensing medical marijuana in mid-to-late September. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound Buy Photo

A plain black canopy over a windowed entrance with white lettering is the public's only view of Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut.

The subdued entry reflects the professional approach Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut owner and pharmacist Nick Tamborrino feels is paramount to the operation, opening soon on East Main Street in Branford.

"I want to stress the professionalism," said Tamborrino. "I assured the town that this will be a professional setting and I'm going to stick to that."

Tamborrino spoke to The Sound last week during an interview at the new business, one of only six in the state opening this fall as inaugural sites dispensing medical marijuana under Connecticut's new law, adopted in 2012.

Located in a rear unit at 469 East Main Street (behind Planet Fitness), the interior was receiving final touches last week to help transform it into the practice space Tamborrino envisions. Far from creating a store-front retail operation, Tamborrino has in mind instead a space he describes as "soothing and professional. If you could take a medical office and combine it with an Apple Store, that's what I'm going for."

Tamborrino said he's excited to be getting so close to realizing what, for him, has been a strong vision for the past few years. A pharmacist with 13 years' experience, Tamborrino earned his doctor of pharmacy degree in 2002 from UConn and combined it with the passion for entrepreneurship developed while earning his MBA from UConn. During his studies, "an extra course sparked my interest to create a business plan," said Tamborrino.

While working on his business plan for a mobile flu clinic marketed to employers, the opportunity to apply for the state's medical marijuana dispensary licensing "came on table, and I redirected," said Tamborrino, who established his company in Fairfield.

When considering dispensary sites, Tamborrino looked at Norwalk, but zeroed in on Branford for several reasons, he said.

For one, he felt the town's geographical locale along the I-95 corridor would make the dispensary easily accessible.

"I think that was a reason why Branford was a choice of mine, as well it being important to be close to a major resource institution, such as Yale-New Haven Hospital, and being in the same time town as Branford Hospice. At Yale, Smilow is a major cancer hospital, and cancer treatment is one of the allowed uses for medical marijuana in the state," said Tamborrino.

While he felt Branford's location was pivotal, Tamborrino admitted he was nevertheless surprised when the state named the first six dispensaries and made Branford the only dispensary in New Haven County and the shoreline area. The other approved sites are in Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, Uncasville, and South Windsor.

As a result, Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut will be serving a significant area population of those enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program. Tamborrino currently anticipates 300 visitors per month with an average of 15 to 20 clients visiting daily and each client visiting once or twice a month.

While forms of medicinal marijuana won't be arriving from his selected state production facility until mid- to late September, Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut will begin operating later this month with a "soft opening" offering counseling services, said Tamborrino.

"All of the patients are referred by their doctors, and they all will receive counseling," said Tamborrino. "Some will be using medical marijuana for the first time; others may have accessed it before on the black market."

The center will offer different strains of marijuana types from the distributor, available in several different forms.

"Each strain has different properties which could be best put to use for different disease states or different effects," explained Tamborrino. "Some will increase the appetite, others are taken at nighttime to help sleep, some assist patients with glaucoma, others are day-time strength."

By state law, medical marijuana patients must be at least 18. The drugs produced from the medical marijuana strains will be offered in forms that can be smoked as well as taken in pills and transdermal patches or given through vaporizer delivery (think e-cigarette). While "edibles," such as brownies with marijuana content, are available, Tamborrino said, "I'm going to be cautious about what edibles we bring to the facility. We will look at it on a patient-to-patient basis. We're not going to market to any child."

Another thing that won't be marketed: "head shop" marijuana paraphernalia such as water pipes and other smoking gear. Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut will sell vaporizers, which "allow the transmission of the medicine as needed," said Tamborinno.

All forms of medical marijuana leaving Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut will be dispensed in pharmaceutical containers. Asked whether some patients may attempt to abuse or otherwise illegally handle their up to 2.5-ounce allotment per month, Tamborrino said the same stringent state laws, practices, and "red flags" applied to any pharmaceutical abuse will apply here.

"We have the same protocols in place to follow," he said.

Security starts with Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut's single business entrance, which includes video surveillance. Clients arrive by appointment only and will be buzzed in to a lobby holding area to speak to a staff member behind the lobby service window. Once an appointment is confirmed, another door opens for access to the practice's reception area and waiting room. Beyond that space are three white-walled, brightly lit professional counseling offices as well as the pharmacy/dispensary space.

Tamborrino will be one of three pharmacists/counselors among his initial staff of five, which may grow to as many as eight, he said.

Tamborrino was one of 21 applicants seeking dispensary licensing through the state Department of Consumer Protection last fall. He went before the Branford Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) during a public hearing in November 2013, when he received PZC approval for his application to open the Branford site.

"Getting through zoning was difficult for a lot of the applicants" around the state, said Tamborrino. "I think Branford was so welcoming, in part, because I presented a very thorough presentation. Up to date, I've received very positive feedback from residents, from the municipality, and the town employees."

Recognizing his part in this new medical treatment frontier, Tamborrino, through his affiliation with Connecticut Pharmacists Association, will provide valuable research input from his practice to aid a collaborative study being undertaken by pain medicine practitioner Dr. Mark Ware of McGill University in Montreal for the non-profit Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids.

"It's an international study measuring outcomes for patients in particular strains. We'll keep a data base and track all of the strains and try to help narrow specific strains to specific disease states," said Tamborrino. "It's an exciting time for this field. I think this is just the beginning. I think we're going to learn a lot with this, in terms of research."

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