Cancer patient Angela Fiorini told the Town Plan and Zoning Commission Tuesday night that those supporting an application for a medical marijuana dispensary on the Post Road are not asking "that you open a drug clinic."
What they want, and need, the Monroe resident said, is "access to a safe, professional" facility, conveniently located.
David Lipton wants to open CT Wellness Centers at 222 Post Road, a former insurance office in a small shopping center not far from the town's border with Bridgeport. In order to apply for a state license to operate a dispensary under Connecticut's recently approved medical marijuana law, he must first receive local zoning approval.
The public hearing on Lipton's application for a certificate of compliance was continued by the TPZ until Sept. 24, and no decision was made.
The board on Tuesday tabled action on a second compliance certificate for another medical marijuana dispensary proposed 200 yards down the road in an office building at 400 Post Road.
During the hearing on the initial dispensary request, Pope Street resident Steve O'Connell told the board that while there may be a need for the medical marijuana outlet, it will likely also encourage marijuana use. "Both high schools have a severe drug use problem," he told the TPZ, and suggested that hospitals are the proper place for such dispensaries.
The state Department of Consumer Protection has adopted extensive regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, including hours and required security systems. Only patients registered with the state and holding a prescription, and their caregivers, are allowed inside the dispensaries, and a licensed pharmacist must be on site while a dispensary is open.
It is expected that the state will issue between 3 to 5 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, with more issued if that is found to be necessary, according to Diane Whitney, the lawyer for the applicant. Asked by commissioners where patients who qualify for a medical marijuana prescription get the drug now, Whitney responded that she can only assume that they obtain it illegally. There are no medical marijuana dispensaries licensed yet in the state.
Whitney said roughly 19 other states allow for the sale of medical marijuana, but Connecticut has the strictest regulations.
TPZ member Gerald Alessi said patients can get marijuana in a pill form, called marinol. "My father was on it, it is available now," he said.
"It is a much different product than medical marijuana," said Robert Tendler, the center's pharmacist. "It's a separate medication that has different benefits."
Monroe physician Judith Major said she has about 590 patients who have registered with the state to receive medical marijuana. "People are desperate," she said. So far, about 900 people are registered statewide.
"So I guess you're specializing in marijuana prescription distribution," Alessi said to Major, who is an internist.
Commission members expressed concerns about the traffic the center would generate. Lipton said the outlet will likely operate on an appointment-only basis. He estimated each patient would probably spend about one-half hour with the pharmacist per visit.
Others wanted to know why medical marijuana can't be dispensed through existing pharmacies. Whitney said that the law prescribes that only designated dispensaries will be allowed to distribute the drug.
"To deny people a chance to make the choice for themselves to eliminate suffering is not the best option," Ketchian said.
Vidoli said he's been following the discussions around the nation regarding medical marijuana, and said having a facility that has just one purpose -- rather than a pharmacy or hospital -- helps control the distribution. "I think the state has spent a tremendous amount of time on this," he said.
One thing the state will not control is the cost of the medical marijuana, Lipton said.
Longview Avenue resident Carol Jacobelli said most likely no one in the hearing room will escape a cancer diagnosis affecting their lives in some way, but she doesn't want the dispensary in her neighborhood.
She said when she lived in New York, there was a methadone clinic near her beauty shop. "We had a lot of problems," she said, adding the proposed dispensary would abut her backyard.
The commission asked Lipton to provide estimated client numbers for the dispensary, and also want a representative of the Police Department to attend the next hearing.
The second application to open a medical marijuana dispensary in town -- on hold, at least temporarily -- has been filed for 400 Post Road by local resident Robert Schulten, the administrator for Nutmeg Dispensary, LLC.