Like all medical marijuana patients in Connecticut, William Purvis had to get a prescription from his doctor and state certification card before he could enter Affinity Health & Wellness, the state’s 14th medical marijuana dispensary which recently opened in New Haven.
“This is a blessing for those that live in this area,” said Purvis.
Purvis has been battling liver cancer for two years. He said he struggled to keep food down during treatments, but that changed after he started lighting up. He had been traveling to Milford to get his prescription for medical marijuana.
“It saves time, money, effort,” said Purvis, who said he has visited the New Haven dispensary three times since it opened two weeks ago.
Not all patients smoke marijuana. In fact, some of the products sold at Affinity don’t even contain THC, the main ingredient in cannabis, known for giving the sensation of a high.
“There’s tablets, there’s capsules, there’s films that you can put under your tongue, there’s creams, there’s lotions, there’s edibles,” explained Ray Pantalena, the owner of Affinity Health & Wellness.
Still, some people living nearby think that those who want the drug will circumvent the system.
“There are ways. Lots of them have ways to get their prescriptions,” said Eleanor Sear.
“I think there should be strict guidelines on who gets to use that product in that building,” added Frank Kerson.
Kerson has lived in the neighborhood since the 1960’s.
“I’m afraid that people who don’t need it will be using it, getting it, and causing problems in the area,” he cautioned.
Pantalena said the stigma surrounding medical marijuana is their biggest obstacle.
“Everyone thinks you can just come in, you pick out what you want, and you leave like a candy store. It’s so far from the truth,” said Pantalena. “It’s gonna take a while for the general public to understand that hey this is something new, it does work, you’ve just to have an open mind.”
The words “medical marijuana” are nowhere to be found around the outside of the Whalley Avenue dispensary. Pantalena said state law requires these dispensaries operate just like any other medical facility and without advertising.
Also, no one is allowed to walk through the doors without a medical marijuana card or visitors pass, both of which are issued by the state of Connecticut.
Another security measure required by the state of Connecticut is that all of the drugs are kept behind a vault.
Connecticut is also one of only a handful of states that requires a licensed pharmacist to dispense medical marijuana. Pantalena says he spent 30-years in traditional retail pharmaceuticals.
His dispensary manager, Brian Essenter, moved into medical marijuana four years ago. He said he was tired of battling insurance companies during the decade he worked in the retail pharmaceutical industry and feels like he’s helping patients more now.
“It’s something I get goosebumps from on a daily basis,” said Essenter. “The elation on their faces when they would come in high fiving, hugging, crying at times was something you can’t possibly get anywhere else.”
There are 31 conditions that qualify, but five more were recently recommended. The discussion to expand the use to chronic pain was tabled at a recent hearing. The pharmacists says the expansion could double and quite possibly triple their business.