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U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy at Prime Wellness in South Windsor (Jack Kramer photo)

Ask retired Air Force engineer Gary Pozzato what medical marijuana has meant to him, and he pulls no punches.

“I would probably be blind by now without it,” the Vernon resident said. “I’ve had glaucoma for 15 years and before pot I had nothing to treat it. I actually think my eyesight has improved since I’ve been on medical marijuana.”

Pozzato was among a group of medical marijuana users who spoke at a panel put together by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy on Monday at Prime Wellness of Connecticut in South Windsor, one of nine state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries.

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Gary Pozzato tells Sen. Murphy about how marijuana has improved his vision (Jack Kramer photo)

Murphy was given a tour of dispensary by Chief Executive Officer Tom Nicholas. After the half-hour tour, the senator sat with Pozzato and others receiving medical marijuana treatment, and listened to them sing the praises of what some referred to as a “miracle drug.”

Murphy is the co-sponsor of the Compassionate Access, Research, Expansion, Respect States (CARERS) Act, a bill in front of Congress.

The bill’s main purpose is to move medical marijuana, on a federal level, from a class 1 or more dangerous, to class 2, less dangerous drug. Doing so, Murphy said, would both open the door for more research, but more importantly “open the door for additional insurance reimbursement for users.”

Murphy said getting Congress to move on the issue is important now because of the increasing heroin and opioid crisis in Connecticut — and across the country.

“It might sound counterintuitive that the answer to the heroin and opioid crisis we are currently experiencing is medical marijuana, but it is true,” Murphy said. “Especially when you realize the alternative is that much more costly and dangerous drugs we are using instead, like OxyContin, to treat the crisis.”

Murphy says nearly 9,300 patients in Connecticut are registered for medical marijuana certificates to use pot to treat a variety of health problems including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Part of Monday’s tour at Prime Wellness, which was for the news media in addition to Murphy, was to show the level of security at the dispensary.

Nicholas said Prime Wellness, which was the first dispensary to open for business in August of 2014 at its John Fitch Boulevard location in South Windsor, has done “all sorts of crazy stuff as far as security.”

That includes, Nicholas continued, “motion detectors, cameras everywhere, conversations recorded 24/7, 365 days a year.

“Anybody who works here is a pharmacy technician,” Nicholas said. “Everything comes in here sealed and pre-packaged . . . If the President of the United States wanted to come here, he’d better have his driver’s license on him.”

Murphy quipped: “This place does kind of look like Fort Knox.”

Another medical marijuana user, James Hopkins, of the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, said the drug changed his life.

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James Hopkins (Jack Kramer photo)

Hopkins, a retired commercial roofer, said he suffered from bipolar manic depression before he started using medical marijuana. He joked that these days he feels like he “could still be playing football back at Hartford High School” because of how good the treatments make him feel.

Asked by the panel why it is difficult to get Congress to act on changing medical marijuana laws, Murphy was straightforward.

“Shame on Congress,” Murphy said. “Ten years from now we are going to look back at this time and laugh for not acting quicker on this issue. It is time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country.”

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Dispensary counter at Prime Wellness (Jack Kramer photo)

The senator said one thing that does spur action is when states move ahead of the federal government.

He noted that the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee is considering a bill that would approve use of medical marijuana by children under the age of 18 who suffer from seizures.

“We need to change this from being a political issue to a medical issue,” Murphy said.