Whether you’re well-versed in the world of marijuana or a clear-lunged “weedtotaler,” chances are you’ve never been inside any of Connecticut’s nine medical marijuana dispensaries. And that’s very much by design.
Curious, we decide to check out Southern CT Wellness & Healing in Milford, but are allowed in only after receiving clearance from the state. Even that permission only covers the lobby, lounge and consultation room, where we meet with owner and dispensary pharmacy manager Raj Patel. You don’t need Toucan Sam’s nose to figure out which room the product is in, but you do need to be licensed to get through that door. Other than the funky aroma, the space itself probably doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did when it was a physical therapy office prior to the dispensary’s opening in August 2016.
The phrase “there’s nothing to see here” has never been more applicable. No buds in jars, no brownies on display, no ashtrays on the tables. “We don’t do anything here,” Patel says. “No weighing, no packing. Everything is packed at the grow facilities.” Patients go in, get their prepackaged prescription, and they’re on their way.
Far from the pothead’s utopia one might envision within these walls, the operation is regulated and buttoned-up with absolutely no frills. To wit, every employee from owner to receptionist is either a pharmacist or pharmacy technician.
Currently there are 31 diagnoses for which a patient in the state of Connecticut will be eligible to purchase products from a dispensary. The process takes about three to four weeks from registration with the state to the first consultation at a dispensary. During that first visit, Patel or one of his coworkers will block off an hour to help the patient fill out an intake form, share information on their condition and background, and decide on treatment goals.
“We have patients who come in who’ve never smoked before, have never used the product before, and they’re nervous,” Patel says. “And I don’t want to have them come in and then throw all the products at them. It’s just not going to work. We want to walk them through all the steps. My approach always is start slow, get them used to the product, get them started, see how it makes them feel.”
The dispensary menu rivals The Cheesecake Factory in breadth, with products available in about 15-20 forms including concentrates, vape cartridges, oils, sprays, strips (think Listerine strips), capsules, topicals and edibles. These options give Patel and his colleagues the ability to find out what works best for each patient. Sometimes they nail it on the first try, and other times it takes months, he says.
Three years removed from working at a retail chain pharmacy, Patel confirms he’s consistently improving his ability to properly treat new patients. “I remember [when we first] started, a gentleman at the register said to me, ‘I never thought I’d be purchasing these products from a guy wearing a shirt and a tie.’ ”