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Uncasville medical marijuana dispensary thriving in new spot, owner says

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Montville — The clientele at the medical marijuana dispensary in Uncasville, seeking to treat the symptoms of painful and debilitating illnesses, has almost doubled in a year and a half as the business has expanded into a larger location.

More than 4,100 people with medical marijuana cards issued by the state are customers at Thames Valley Relief, the dispensary co-founded by Laurie Zrenda and her niece Meredith Elmer in September 2014.

That's almost double the 2,300 customers Zrenda said she had in December 2016, when she announced that the company would be moving from its Route 32 shopping center spot, snuggled between a tanning salon and a restaurant, into a new standalone building farther south on the same road.

Now employees at the dispensary are selling cannabis e-cigarettes, capsules, liquids, cookies and topical creams to customers from the New London area north to the Massachusetts border, as the only one of Connecticut's nine dispensaries located in the eastern part of the state. Customers come to Thames Valley Relief from all of New London and Windham counties, Zrenda said.

Business at Thames Valley Relief — Zrenda and Elmer dropped the word "alternative" from its name to shorten it when the business moved — has grown with the list of medical conditions that qualify people for a medical marijuana card.

More doctors are acknowledging benefits of medical cannabis and either approving their patients' registration for a card or referring them to one of the local practices that specialize in medical marijuana program registrations.

"The patient count is climbing all the time," Zrenda said. "More people are opening their mind. Especially when they realize you don't have to be high — you have products you can take that won't make you feel impaired."

As of this week, 26,557 Connecticut residents are registered with the state's medical marijuana program, nearly 3,000 of them in New London County.

The number of dispensaries has grown from six to nine since the start of the program, and the state Department of Consumer Protection has said it has a goal of issuing anywhere between three and 10 new dispensary licenses this year. A department spokeswoman said Friday that officials are reviewing 73 applications.

Zrenda said her patients increasingly include older adults who have turned to medical marijuana after finding little or no relief, and after facing serious side effects, from prescription drugs.

She said some patients seeking marijuana products without a high were affected by a shortage of products with low levels of the psychoactive chemical compound THC. The state's four licensed medical marijuana producers were not making enough low-THC products to keep up with the small but eager population of patients who wanted them, though supply has improved, she said.

"There's a market for it, even though it may not be a big market," she said.

The dispensary now also is attached to a business aimed at nonmedical marijuana cardholders: a smoke shop, open to the general public, that sells rolling papers, pipes and bongs as well as products infused with cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive component derived from cannabis plants that people use to alleviate anxiety and pain.

Zrenda's son and Elmer's husband manage the Arcadia CBD and Smoke Shop, which they opened in mid-April in the same building as the dispensary. Customers for the shop enter through a separate door, Zrenda said. Customers of both businesses are not allowed to consume purchased products inside the building.

The CBD shop's customers likely will include people with pain or anxiety but who have not been diagnosed with one of the ailments on the growing list of qualifying conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer or complex regional pain syndrome. 

Arcadia sells products purchased from a Colorado company that makes CBD products derived from hemp, a cannabis plant that is related to marijuana but contains a negligible amount of the psychoactive chemical THC.

They chose the company in part because it provides laboratory test results showing the content of their products, an important safeguard in an essentially unregulated industry, Zrenda said.

Customers already have started to show up for the store's CBD offerings, looking for the products as a way to soothe anxiety, pain and sleeplessness.

"I just think it's so helpful for so many things," Zrenda said. "There are people who have pain or anxiety who can't use medical marijuana." 


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