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  • Writer's pictureLisa Capitani RN

It's opening day in CT for adult-use sales, and I am not excited...

Things in my home state are not great when it comes to cannabis. We were the 17th state to pass medical access laws back in 2012. The first six dispensaries (dispos) opened in 2014, with three additional locations added in 2016. While all of the OG dispos were privately owned, they were all later bought by public MSOs (multi-state operators or "corporate cannabis.") In 2018; regulators approved nine new licenses. That's it. Eighteen dispensaries currently serve nearly 50,000 medical marijuana patients in the state. What's more, the state only ever approved four growers in the state. All four growers are also MSOs.

I became an official medical marijuana card-holding patient (MMP) in 2021. Let me tell you how this process went:

  • Step 1: Make an appointment with a "pot doc." This a telehealth visit in the post-Covid era. I am required to send documentation from another provider that states my qualifying condition. My recent physical with my primary doc shows PTSD in my medical history. I sent that over.

  • Step 2: Get approval. I have my 5-minute call with the pot doc, whose only question was, "do you have your credit card handy?" She explains the process for applying on the state website, and that's it. Done. $150 for the "exam*" and $100 for the application to the state. **

  • Step 3: Some magic happens, and I receive my MMP card in a few days. I have to choose a "pharmacy" (dispo). Only one though. We don't have a state-wide system to track purchases between shops, so I am limited to shopping at one. ***

  • Step 4: But wait- before I can go to the dispo, I get to have a sort of orientation call with the pharmacist (licensed pharmacists run all CT MMP Dispos). OK Cool. That ended up being a nightmare. The dispo entered my phone number wrong, so the pharmacists couldn't reach me. After several back-and-forth reschedulings- she calls at the wrong time when I have a houseful of guests. Annoyed at the delay, I refuse to reschedule, and we rush through my call, with her quickly determining what I should buy in a 5-minute conversation.

  • Step 5: Pick up and try the products. Continue buying and trying products without guidance because the customer service frustrated me from the beginning.****

* Physicians in CT who are licensed to recommend medical cannabis are supposed to have an established relationship with their patients. What's more- this is complicated stuff that is not without risks. Having access to a knowledgeable provider is standard in every other medical situation. But here, well, that leads to... ** money. A. lot. of. money. $250 a year to have access to the medicine. That's not including the cost of any product. There are no other prescribed medications that the patient has to pay a fee to the state to access.

*** This limits the accessibility to my medicine. If my preferred brand/product/dose is unavailable at my dispo, the process to change facilities and buy it elsewhere is burdensome. Further, patients could only change their dispo a few times a year. Consistency and availability are already challenges for MMPs.

****Whether ongoing support is available from the pharmacist can be unclear. Some dispos charge for additional visits with the pharmacist after the initial orientation. Most definitely don't offer it on the regular. You know how when you pick up at CVS, the cashier always asks if you have any questions for the pharmacist? Yeah- that doesn't happen at my dispo...

Today we opened for recreational or adult-use sales (the term the industry prefers). Three of the four existing growers paid $3 mil each to get approved to grow for adult use. Nine currently operating medical dispos were approved to start selling in a hybrid model (after paying $1 million for their applications). No private company or social equity license holder could open their doors today. The deputy commissioner of our Department of Consumer Protection (who heads the medical marijuana program for the state), who is also the leader of the Social Equity Council (SEC), has stepped down. In fact, the SEC is being sued by several applicants. At the very least, we can cheer the state for getting set up to help nearly 43,000 people in the state to clear their records for marijuana convictions in the days before the launch. CT regulators delayed starting adult use sales for months to ensure there would be adequate product to supply both markets. But despite the delay, many headlines and emails encouraged medical patients to stock up in the days before the launch.

To finish my story- after my initial frustration with the program, I decided I needed to learn more about cannabis medicine to make fully informed health decisions. After a few weeks of research (and overwhelm), I was enrolled in a formal education program. I also signed up as a member of the American Cannabis Nurses Association and the Cannabis Nurses Network. I found that there are other nurses (and healthcare professionals of all kinds) around the world who, mainly through personal experiences themselves or with a loved one, have witnessed the power of cannabis medicine and are committed to helping others access that power. Over the next year, I found a medical cannabis regimen that worked for me on many levels. I improved my health and wellness more than I even thought possible. And I finally found myself.

I knew nursing was the profession I belonged in, but within the current healthcare model, I felt strangled and confined. I was suffering what most nurses call "moral injury." This is the distress and pain that comes from not being able to provide the care our patients deserve because of the bounds and restrictions of the systems we work in. Now, I see a new way forward for myself. I can teach what I have learned. I can share my knowledge and skills with clients to help them reach health and wellness goals. I can share peer-reviewed evidence with my medical colleagues and begin to break down the current stigma. I believe we all can heal ourselves because I have done it. I know cannabis can help in that process, and I am ready to show you how. That is who I am. This is what I was born to do.

PS. Let's talk about the mold thing next time...

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