Medical cannabis office opens in New London

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New London — Following the success of 24 offices that have sprouted up across eight states since 2013, Canna Care Docs, which qualifies patients into medical marijuana programs, opened a new medical office in New London this past week.

The location grew out of a proposal from Kara Francese, a city resident who now serves as the Connecticut regional manager for Canna Care Docs.

"It's been my dream to bring Canna Care to New London since I started with the company in 2013," Francese said. She added, "It's just the city that I love, and I just felt this area was lacking."

The 419 Montauk Ave. office joins two others in Connecticut: One in Hartford, the site of Canna Care's state debut in 2015, and one that is moving from Norwalk to Milford this month. The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Canna Care from 4 to 6 p.m. March 8.

Sitting in the new office on Thursday — with a "Cooking with Marijuana" binder of recipes on the coffee table in front of her, and apparel imprinted with the tetrahydrocannabinol molecule in a case across the room — Francese explained how Canna Care Docs works.

Before coming in, a patient will get documentation about their qualifying condition from a primary care doctor, specialist or psychiatrist. Connecticut currently allows the palliative use of marijuana for patients with 31 conditions; Francese said some of the most common uses are for cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and post laminectomy syndrome.

Upon entering Canna Care Docs, the patient will fill out a medical history form, go through a consultation and be given educational resources.

"A lot of times we get people who don't know much at all, especially with our senior population," Francese said. She added, "Everyone should reserve the right to choose. Cannabis should be offered on the front lines of treatment, not as a last resort."

The patient then talks about symptoms with the physician, who does a brief physical exam and then submits an application to the state website.

The patient also must complete the registration process — Francese said patients can do this on their computer, but most go to a dispensary because it's easier — and the state reviews the application within 30 business days.

Before the opening of Canna Care, patients might go to a family medicine or primary care doctor who does certifications on the side. But Francese said people love the idea of going to a medical office that specializes in cannabis.

A visit to Canna Care costs $200, including follow-ups, and federal laws prevent the company from taking insurance.

Joining Francese in the New London office are staff members Joseph Stalsworth, Erin McGoff and Alisha Blake, and Dr. Harry Anderson, who also works in the Canna Care office in Hartford.

For now, the New London office only sees patients — by appointment — on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But Francese said the plan is to move full-time as the office builds up its customer base. Staff members also do a lot of community outreach, particularly with senior citizens and veterans.

There are 30,000 people in Connecticut with medical marijuana cards, and for Francese, 30, the business is also personal: She, her sister, and her mother all hold cards.

Francese said she has "always been a cannabis fan" and was self-medicating her PTSD with cannabis long before she even knew its medical benefits. So she was excited to join Canna Care as a receptionist at its Worcester office in 2013.

She worked there for two years before leaving for two years to serve as the primary caretaker for her sister, who was left with a debilitating injury after an accident; Francese returned to Canna Care Docs in her current role last February.

She was "stoked" last year when the Connecticut General Assembly approved fibromyalgia as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis, as her mother has the disorder. There are currently bills in the legislature to add opioid use disorder and chronic pain as qualifying conditions.

Francese is confident that recreational marijuana will be legalized in the state legislature this year, and she doesn't foresee it having a negative impact on the medical program, because they're so different. She pointed out that medical marijuana patients can get their cannabis without paying taxes or waiting in long lines, and at a dispensary, they're rung out by a licensed pharmacist.

e.moser@theday.com

Editor's Note: Editor's note: This version clarifies how patients complete the registration process.

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