The state license regulatory agency could this week begin accepting applications from medical marijuana growers and dispensers, including one for a 15,000-square-foot production facility in a city-owned factory in Middletown.
Last month, the common council became the second municipality in Connecticut to green-light a lease for a medical marijuana grow house to be built in the former Remington Rand warehouse in the north end.
The lease with Fairfield-based Greenbelt Management at 180 Johnson St., is contingent on the firm being awarded one of the three to 10 licenses to be issued by the state Department of Consumer Protection.
With the state regulatory review committee approving 76 pages of rules on Aug. 27, his staff will file paperwork with the secretary of the state's office this week to finalize the licensing procedure.
Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein says next week his office will issue requests for formal applications for between three and 10 marijuana grower and three to five dispenser licenses. The latter will depend upon how many patients in Connecticut have a doctor's prescription for medical marijuana.
On Aug. 29, the Justice Department updated its marijuana enforcement policy, saying cannabis remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act and that federal prosecutors will continue to aggressively enforce this statute.
"Outside of these enforcement priorities, however, the federal government has traditionally relied on state and local authorizes to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws," the release says.
That means cities like Middletown are expected to handle citizens found with small amounts of marijuana on private property.
Recent state legislation that authorizes the production, distribution and possession of marijuana within regulated guidelines, according to the justice department, expects that states and municipalities will "enforce strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests."
Rubenstein says the DOJ guidelines don't affect Connecticut's medical marijuana licensure process. "We have always taken the view that if we create tighter regulations, the program would ensure the product was strictly regulated and would not invite federal intervention," he says.
Like other self-funded programs licensed through the state office of consumer protection, medical marijuana dispensaries and growers are charged a substantial fee. Rubenstein says producers like Greenbelt are expected to pay a $25,000 nonrefundable deposit for the application and a $75,000 license fee.
"The program itself was designed to be funded by virtue of the licensing fees," he says, which means costs go to what it takes to oversee and properly manage and pay personnel. "This is the only industry that's so fully self-funded," much like the state departments of insurance, banking and public utility.
Greenbelt will also pay $25,000 to the city of Middletown as a non-refundable lease fee.
Principal partner of Greenbelt Jason Nickerson says the justice department's statement is a welcome one.
"I think the announcement from the feds is clear affirmation that well-regulated frameworks like the one the Department of Consumer Protection has put together for Connecticut medical marijuana program have been legitimized. I think it's tremendously positive for the industry on the national level and bodes well for the survival and success of the program here in Connecticut."
Nickerson says the federal government's position elucidates concerns raised by city leaders and citizens. "The timing of the announcement is fortunate as we believe it eliminates many of our and the city of Middletown's concerns about the possibility of federal intervention in our lease and/or operations."
Provided Greenbelt is awarded a producer's license, Nickerson says, construction and security installation at the Remington Rand facility will begin in earnest.