(Updated 7:30 a.m.) If one California-based company has its way, medical marijuana patients in Connecticut will be able to fill their prescriptions as easily as they rent a DVD from Redbox.
The state’s legalization of medical marijuana on May 31 prompted the consulting company Kind Clinics LLC to bring its business to Connecticut. The company’s vending machine-like marijuana dispenser, Medbox Inc., takes going to the pharmacy to another level.
Already popular on the West Coast, Medbox made its first appearance Tuesday on Pratt Street in Hartford. The Medbox machine is on display in an empty storefront.
“The technology evolved out of the mess that was California,” Kind Clinics CEO Dr. Bruce Bedrick said. Competing dispensaries, mostly from the West Coast, use a “risky system” in which they essentially function as cash registers and “just hand medicine out,” he said.
Like Redbox machines, Medboxes do not accept cash. New patients receive a medicine dispensing card that acts as a key. Patients can load money onto the card so that it can act as a credit card for the dispensary, Bedrick said.
The card and the patient’s fingerprint guarantee that the patient is the only person capable of receiving the medicine, he said.
Bedrick said if Medbox passes registration in Connecticut, the machine likely will be kept behind pharmacy counters. Bedrick said the clinics are set up similar to doctors’ offices.
“You have a nice reception area and then you have a room where you’re buzzed into. And that is where the medicine in the machines are and either the patient or, in this case, the technician or the pharmacist will dispense the medicine,” Bedrick said.
While medical marijuana is not covered by insurance in any state, Bedrick said the Medbox system decreases costs for the operator by limiting the amount of space required, by reducing internal theft, and by requiring less manpower than a non-automated dispensary.
Bedrick thinks the difference in regulation between marijuana and other prescription drugs will help nix the social stigma of using it. Medbox helps to make marijuana use more of a social norm, he said.
“Now that the law has passed, it’s going to be accepted as a true, valid medicine for people who really need it,” he said, but he also noted that some people will never change their opinion of the drug.
But don’t expect to see a working Medbox any time soon, or ever, in Connecticut. The new law requires the Department of Consumer Protection to adopt regulations and a licensing process for dispensaries and growers. That won’t occur until at least 2013, Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Bill Rubenstein said.
It will take a “considerable amount of time” to get the dispensing system in order, Rubenstein said. The registry for growers and dispensers will not be ready until sometime in 2013 because the licensing process can only happen after the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee approves the draft regulations, he said.
But Michael Lawlor, the governor’s top criminal justice adviser, said there’s no way the vending machines would be allowed under Connecticut’s law. Lawlor, who helped draft the legislation, said lawmakers worked hard to avoid the appearance of free-wheeling marijuana sales.
He said it was written to make sure the distribution of marijuana by a pharmacist was similar to any other drug.
While the vending machine isn’t expressly prohibited under the new law “it would violate the spirit of the law,” Lawlor said.
“For example, there is no way DCP would allow beer or wine to be sold through vending machines either, though it is not specifically prohibited,” he said. “It is important to have personal contact between pharmacists and their employees and customers, just to eyeball the customer to detect if something is wrong.”
The regulation process will take about a year to complete and that’s before the first growing license is doled out. The marijuana must be grown within the state of Connecticut in order to comply with federal laws regulating the drug.
Medical marijuana has been approved in Connecticut for the treatment of cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a handful of other diseases.