A table at the Connecticut Cannabis Expo

Pipe Dreams

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: legal medical marijuana production is coming to Connecticut. In early 2014, the Department of Consumer Protection will dole out three producer’s licenses and between three and five dispensary licenses, with locations to be determined based on highest proximity to the most patients. There are 21 applicants vying for cultivation spots, and 16 for dispensary rights.

Among the recent wave of medical marijuana reforms undertaken by state governments across the country, Connecticut’s, signed in June 2012, is one of the strictest. Not many ailments qualify for cannabis treatment, and those that do are limited to rather severe conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, HIV and Crohn’s disease. If you have a qualifying diagnosis, you still need your doctor’s cooperation to advance your enrollment application with the DCP; if he or she won’t go to bat for you, the law says you’re basically out of luck. While patients can possess marijuana on their person, they can’t buy or grow it under current law—which makes for a pretty dubious line to have to walk, because if you can’t buy it or grow it, how can you legally come to possess it? Despite all of these hurdles, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,300 Connecticut residents are currently enrolled in the program, which also carries a $100 registration fee for patients.

Cultivation license applicants, meanwhile, each had to pay a non-refundable $25,000 fee just to be considered. Now nearing the end of the selection process, license winners will have to pay another $75,000 just to take their bounties home. Dispensary applicants had to pay $1,000 upfront, with a $5,000 fee on the way if granted a license.

There are other businesses on the periphery of all of that, and they’re ready to ride the wave. This past weekend, New Haven got a preview of this budding local industry during the first Connecticut Cannabis Exposition, held in an unheated but sunlit concrete space inside Upper State Street’s Trolley Square.

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Kushley, a Waterford-based business, tabled with organic candles, sprays, oils and lotions meant to purge the smell of marijuana. Veteran New Haven smoke shop Rubber Match—which also sells futons and beanbag chairs in its Whalley Avenue storefront—had pipes and vaporizers for sale (pictured first above). Shock ’n’ Awe, a Waterbury smoke shop, displayed a particularly unique array of hand-blown glass pipes, one of them shaped like a house, with chimney and all (pictured third above). The one-of-a-kind piece costs $650 and looks as if it requires a mighty pair of lungs to use.

The exposition was the brainchild of former lawyer Doug Breakstone, who six months ago started Hanlee Productions, which produced the event. For Breakstone, the expo was meant, first and foremost, to educate people about the ins and outs of the state law. He cites a lack of education-directed funds in the 2012 bill as a major reason why he felt the need to pick up some of the informational slack. He also wants to help eliminate the stigma surrounding medical marijuana—the presumption by many that it’s simply an excuse for people to get high, rather than a genuine therapeutic aid.

The snowstorm over the weekend kept the expo’s attendance numbers low, but those most dedicated to, or curious about, the cause still showed up. The educational component was satisfied by a number of guest speakers, some of whom spoke about the law itself. Chef Yvonne Learym, for her part, gave a talk on THC-infused edibles, something she’s been creating for seventeen years. (If medical marijuana were to come with a drug information label, THC—or tetrahydrocannabinol—would be listed as its active ingredient.)

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The weekend’s centerpiece was the “Cannabis Cup,” in which card-carrying patients submitted the strains they use to be judged for quality and potency by Matthew Madison, a “Cannabis Analyst” from Herbal Synergy in Rhode Island, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2006. On a normal day, licensed growers there pay Madison to analyze their crops and ensure they meet the state’s requirements.

During the Cup testing (pictured second above, in progress), Madison took crushed-up bud, extracted the THC and then ran the contents through a gas chromatograph, a machine that can separate and analyze myriad organic and inorganic compounds. In all, eight patients submitted strains for consideration, with names like Kosher Kush and Amnesia.

As Madison ran liquid THC through the machine, a crowd formed around him. They were in awe of the weed just sitting right there on a table, out in the open, with no fear of law enforcement. “This is unreal,” one expo-goer remarked, over and over.

Written and photographed by Jake Goldman.

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