Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Fine Fettle pricing (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

WINDHAM, CT — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney visited one of the state’s newest medical marijuana dispensaries Monday to show his support for legislation that would prohibit penalizing financial institutions for helping legitimate marijuana businesses.

Courtney came to Fine Fettle Dispensary, a medical marijuana dispensary that recently opened in the Willimantic section of Windham.

Fine Fettle is one of 11 new medical marijuana locations granted licenses by Connecticut in an effort to ensure that the 33,000-plus patients who use medical marijuana don’t have to travel too far for their medicine.

Courtney is backing legislation in the U.S. House which would prohibit penalizing any financial institution that services a legitimate marijuana businesses in states where marijuana (medical or recreational) is legalized.

There are 47 states that allow cannabis in some form. It’s now legal for recreational use in 11 states, as well as the District of Columbia and territories of Guam.

A recent budget amendment that passed a U.S. House of Representatives committee would prohibit penalties against financial institutions that accept business from marijuana operations established under state or local law. It awaits a vote by both the full House and the U.S. Senate.

While cannabis for medical use was legalized by Connecticut lawmakers in 2012, federal authorities have yet to lower its classification from a dangerous, illegal Schedule I drug.

Courtney explained that the SAFE Banking Act would “eliminate marijuana off Schedule 1 for the purposes of financial services.” The bill would make it so that federal banking regulators couldn’t penalize banks for serving legitimate cannabis businesses, or take a negative action on a loan solely because the loan is for a cannabis business.

Looking around Fine Fettle, which is located on West Main Street, Courtney said: “It only makes sense. This is a legitimate business that deserves the same financial support of any other business.”

“They’ve done everything right, followed all the rules,” Courtney said. “They are filling a need.”

While Fine Fettle and many other Connecticut dispensaries have been able to work out business arrangements with Connecticut financial institutions, Courtney and Fine Fettle officials said the dispensaries haven’t been given the type of “Grade A” business dealings from banks that other businesses receive.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Ben Zachs, COO of Fine Fettle, gives U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney a tour (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

Fine Fettle CEO Richard Carbray didn’t even want to name the financial institution that Fine Fettle has secured a banking arrangement with, in Connecticut, because he didn’t want to jeopardize the institution’s dealings with federal authorities.

“And look around this place,” said Carbray. “We run it like a pharmacy. This is a top-notch operation that operates within the complete parameters of all state laws. There is no reason we shouldn’t be treated that way.”

Ben Zachs, chief operating officer of Fine Fettle Dispensary, said the business opened two weeks ago, has 15 full-time employees and already has a patient list of over 100 customers.

Unlike in some states, many state-chartered Connecticut banks and credit unions have agreed to handle the millions of dollars generated by the state’s dispensaries and four cannabis producers.

But Carbray and Zachs said some of the banking services that Fine Fettle and other dispensaries still don’t receive are loans, lines of credit, interest on their deposits and other perks that other businesses do receive from banks and credit unions.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
A sample box (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

Courtney is confident that the stigma against those in the medical marijuana business is changing – quickly – and he predicted that a bill will soon pass both the U.S. House and Senate freeing up the reins.

“I truly believe that in the end this will have bipartisan support,” Courtney said, though he did add that he couldn’t say for sure what President Donald Trump’s position on the issue would turn out to be if the bill hits his desk.

The public seems to support the concept.

A Quinnipiac poll from April 2018 found that 74% of voters support legislation protecting states with legal cannabis programs from federal interference.