WEST HAVEN, CT— As Connecticut’s medical marijuana program continues to expand, officials are trying to stay on top of making sure there is an adequate supply being produced by the state’s four growers.
As of Aug. 3, there were 26,849 medical marijuana patients in the state with 935 physicians licensed to prescribe to patients suffering from 22 state-approved conditions, and six conditions for patients under 18.
The state’s Board of Physicians recently rejected adding opioid addiction as a treatable condition, which could have caused a big spike in patient numbers.
The state has proposed adding up to 10 more dispensaries — or one more than is currently open in the state — to serve Connecticut’s growing patient pool. A decision on where the new dispensaries will go, from the 73 applications received, is expected in the fall.
Currently, there are two medical marijuana dispensaries in Milford, and one each in Bristol, Waterbury, Branford, South Windsor, Hartford, Bethel, and Uncasville.
There are four marijuana growers in the state — in West Haven, Portland, Simsbury and Watertown.
The growers are growing. In West Haven, for instance, Advanced Grow Labs has expanded twice since it opened in 2014.
And in Simsbury, Curaleaf LLC, recently received zoning approval to move from its 40,000-square-foot facility into a new 34-acre facility sometime in 2019.
Dispensary sales this year in Connecticut are projected to reach $50 million-$75 million, up from an estimated $30 million-$35 million in 2017, according to the Marijuana Business Factbook 2018.
The state’s four current growers insist they’re capable of providing adequate supplies, and Connecticut officials insist no additional cultivators are needed despite a recent article in Marijuana Business Daily which stated the growers are having a hard time meeting the growing demand.
“Our program has grown significantly since medication became available in 2014, and now serves well over 26,000 patients,” said the state’s Drug Control Director Rodrick Marriott.
“All production facilities are held to incredibly high safety and medical standards, and we’re confident that they have the capacity to meet patient need,” Marriott insisted.
He said the facilities have expanded to accommodate the growth in the program.
“This is a quickly growing program, and DCP always closely monitors its progress so that if anything changes, we can make the appropriate decisions as regulators,” he said.
Cultivators don’t have any caps on square footage or canopy size.
At the West Haven facility, the plant has expanded from 26,000 square feet to 41,000 square feet with room to add another 20,000 square feet, according to David Lipton, managing partner and CEO of Advanced Grow Labs.
Lipton recently gave a tour of his plant, which has grown from three to 50 workers, and he said part of the issue, he wouldn’t go as far as calling it a problem, “is the industry has changed.”
“There are so many different ways that the product has to be produced these days,” Lipton said. “It isn’t just smoked or eaten anymore. There are many, many forms that it is produced in to meet demand and all those forms require testing, and that takes time.”
“But,” he reiterated, “ourselves and the other Connecticut growers certainly can meet today’s demand and what is coming down the road. I can assure you that.”
At Advanced Grow Labs, the facility product line now includes capsules, cartridges, concentrates, edibles, flowers, sublingual slips and sprays and topicals.
Lipton, during the tour, explained the importance he placed on cleanliness, and also added that running a marijuana producing plant isn’t cheap. “We spend $40,000 a month on testing,” he said, “and another $40,000 a month on our utility bill,” as the rooms the marijuana is grown in have strict climate and temperature requirements.
As far the 50 workers at the plant, company president Seth Sholes said they range from “kids just out of high school to college Ph.Ds.”
Advanced Grow’s trucks deliver product to the state’s nine dispensaries twice a week. Lipton explained that it really comes down to what a patient prefers as to the form of medical marijuana treatment he or she wants and as the program grows, he reiterated, sometimes it takes a short while to fill new demands.
He said other states don’t have as elaborate a program as Connecticut, meaning that it isn’t as hard to keep up with new variations, because they don’t come as fast and as often, in other states.
Lipton said he believes the growers in the state have the ability to handle three times the number of current users — or 75,000 medical marijuana patients.
That opinion is echoed by Linda Kowalski, lobbyist for the Kowalski Group, whose clients include the grower’s Connecticut Medical Cannabis Council.
“Connecticut’s medical marijuana program is regarded as one of the best in the country, and our members are proud to play an important role in this innovative and compassionate program,” Kowalski said.
“As the program has grown, the producers have spent millions of dollars expanding their facilities,” Kowalski added. “The contention that there are shortages in certain products is simply not true. The producers constantly seek to provide the products by dispensaries on a timely basis.”