highly secured marijuana growing facilities.
East Coast states adopting the palliative use of the drug have learned from the West Coast, Walsh said.
"They all seem to say they're crafting the strictest bill in the nation," he said in a phone interview.
Maryland, which is the most recent state to approve medical marijuana, seems to be the tightest legally, he said. There, university medical research centers will establish dispensing programs.
Walsh said much of the early interest in growing programs and dispensaries in eastern states seems to be coming from business professionals.
In a public hearing on the proposed regulations this spring, some would-be growers balked at a requirement to deposit $2 million into escrow to assure their performance. In response, the state relaxed a bit, and the regulations would now allow a bond or a letter of credit for the $2 million. This might give smaller growers a chance.
Joseph Palmieri Jr. owns a farm in Easton as well as Connecticut Tank Removal Inc., which has 50 employees on Burr Court in Bridgeport. He hopes to be a state-approved marijuana farmer.
"We're excited about the creation of a new industry," Palmieri, 42, said last week. "We've been working with the city of Bridgeport, which has been very receptive."
He will grow hydroponic tomatoes in his Burr Court building to illustrate his farming expertise for state regulators.
"We plan to be light-switch ready," he said. "I'm not looking for financial backers. I have a facility that I own already."
Palmieri believes his deep roots in the state will help his case.
"I hope we're through the process by the fall," said Palmieri, who grew up working at his family's landmark nursery in Westport. "You have to have this laid out and plan for it. I hope they take their time and do it in the right way. Everybody involved in this has a very big task."
David Kimmel, of Ledyard, founder and president of Vintage Foods Ltd., which is working with Canadian and Israeli interests to prepare a bid for a growing operation in Connecticut, said he's interested in pursuing a strain of marijuana that has more of the medicinal qualities for patients and less of the psychoactive THC compounds found in high-grade strains -- essentially pot that will give cancer patients back their appetites, but not make them high.
"I understand this is an emerging industry," Kimmel said. "At the end of the day, it's got to be about the botanical compounds' interaction with cancer cells."
He said state officials are taking appropriate steps. "They understand there are potentially a lot of hurdles and it's subsequently a mistake to come out of the gate like a bull," Kimmel said. "That was the problem in the West Coast."
Rubenstein's office is standing fast on requirements for testing batches of marijuana flowers for active ingredients to assure patients who buy a particular strain one month, can obtain the same strain, with identical effects, six months or a year later.
So far, 660 patients have been certified by physicians and 440 registration cards, which include security measures like holograms, photographs and shifting inks, have been issued by Rubenstein's office.
The department's goal is to get the secure growing facilities up and running, with dispensaries supervised by licensed pharmacists, throughout the state in the first three months of 2014.
"We're right on schedule for what we anticipated," Rubenstein said during a recent interview. He can't move forward licensing producers and dispensaries, however, until the legislative Regulations Review Committee approves them and also agrees to remove marijuana from a Schedule I drug, or dangerous and illegal drug, to a Schedule II medicine. That will come before the committee in August.
Gateway to legalization
Erik Williams, state president of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and president of the Connecticut Medical Cannabis Business Alliance, said last week that the Department of Consumer Protection's changes are generally reasonable.
"One of the things learned from other states -- importantly for those investing time and energy and putting their lives on the line for a new industry -- is the importance of a regulatory body that can function and be partners," Williams said.
"I speak throughout the country," said Williams, who is also affiliated with a Colorado company interested in becoming a Connecticut grower and dispenser. Within 48 hours of obtaining the state license, Williams said his group can obtain seeds and start the growing cycle in a medium that includes shredded coconut shells. The plants should have harvestable flowers with 150 to 180 days.
Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for legalization, said last week that Connecticut will be among the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the nation.
"But that is, in many cases, not in the best interests of patients," she said. "For example, the law itself doesn't let patients grow their own medicine, so they are left going to the streets or committing felonies (by illegally growing marijuana) in the meantime."
O'Keefe said he believes medical marijuana is a prelude to full-scale legalization.
"Americans are increasingly realizing that prohibiting marijuana is a failed and costly policy that is depriving governments of needed revenue, while creating a sometimes dangerous illicit market," she said "Marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol, both for communities and for the individual, and it's time for a new approach. Popular support is increasing rapidly for treating marijuana like alcohol and I am hopeful that legislators will being to take the more sensible approach that Colorado and Washington have taken."
That is highly unlikely in Connecticut, Rubenstein said.
"We really don't have recreational use on our radar screen," he said. "The question about what else happens is outside of what we're doing. The Department of Consumer Protection's mission is to treat this just like other pharmaceuticals."
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