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CT's Cannabis Entrepreneurs Work Within The System

The medical cannabis industry is well-established in Connecticut. According to Michelle Seagull, commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, there are 22,348 registered patients, more than 800 doctors willing to recommend cannabis for patients experiencing any of 22 medical conditions, as well as four grow sites and nine dispensaries scattered throughout the state, with plans to open three more dispensaries.

Cannabis-related small businesses that cater to the non-medical community are more difficult to find.

Cannabis-infused goods are being sold to the general public in Connecticut where the distillate is CBD (cannabidiol) derived from hemp. CBD, unlike the psychotropic THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), has no psychoactive properties; users don’t get high. But CBD retains medicinal benefits, which include anti-anxiety, antiseizure, anti-inflammatory, pain relief.

Aaron Romano, a Bloomfield attorney specializing in cannabis law, says the matrix of legality of CBD is complicated and contradictory and the burden of proof is on law enforcement to demonstrate that the CBD goods being sold are in fact illegal. “This is uncharted waters,” he says.

Kebra Smith-Bolden, who directs two cannabis advocacy organizations and a health-and-wellness center and is starting six-part cannabis basic training course on Jan. 20, has outlined some entrepreneurial opportunities in the cannabis industry: dispensaries, health and wellness, farm work, culture and strain experimentation, laboratory work, research and development, statistics research, manufacture of ingestible products and topical salves, as well as offshoot businesses such as packaging of products, cannabis paraphernalia, deodorizers, marketing, podcasts, magazines.

Here is a glimpse at some of Connecticut’s cannabis pioneers:

Mary-Joe’s Coffee

Joe LaChance owns Mary-Joe’s Coffee, a Stratford-based vendor of CBD-infused edibles. The name is a play on “Mary Jane” and “a cup of Joe” and a tribute to his late mother, who had cancer but refused to use cannabis because she was old-fashioned. “I couldn’t help my mother, so I want to help others,” LaChance says.

LaChance’s four-ounce jars of honey ($25) includes 200 mg of CBD. A bag of infused ground coffee ($15) that makes six to eight cups includes 30 mg of CBD. His coffee flavor lineup includes Jamaican, Costa Rican, New York blend and Winter Spice. He will soon add milkshakes and teas to his lineup.

Each person feels medicinal effects (pain relief, etc.) differently, LaChance says. “There are people I know, with one cup of coffee, they feel it,” LaChance says. “I would say a good dose is at least 10 milligrams of CBD to start. If you don’t feel that, move up to 25.”

He plans to add THC-infused products to his lineup if legalization happens in Connecticut.

“I will still offer CBD, but I will offer THC, too,” LaChance says.

maryjoes.com.

Ricky D’s Rib Shack

In addition to barbecue, Ricky Evans of Ricky D’s Rib Shack in New Haven sells bottles of two varieties of Evans’ original barbecue sauce. The non-infused sauce is called Kansa-Lina. The infused sauce — 360 mgs of CBD per 12-ounce bottle — is called Canna-Lina. Both sauces taste the same.

Evans does not put infused sauce on the restaurant’s meals, but sells bottles only, at $45 each.

For Evans, cannabis was a business decision. “I wanted to get my sauce into retail stores. To get them interested, you have to make your sauce different from other sauces,” Evans said. “My sauce, Kansa-Lina, is good, but that wasn’t enough. Then I learned about CBD.”

Evans is discreet. He does not put bottles out for all to see.

“People see it there and automatically pass judgment,” he says. He keeps Canna-Lina in the back of the store but will sell a bottle if asked.

Evans wants his retail infrastructure and market visibility established.

“When full legalization comes, I will use THC [infusions],” Evans says. “In the meantime, I’m learning a lot about the health perspective on cannabis.”

More information at rickydsribshack.com.

US Hempcare

Jeff Wentzel of Niantic entered the cannabis industry because of a family tragedy: His son and his son’s ex-wife became addicted to opioids. Wentzel is now raising his grandchildren while their parents recover. He sells CBD-infused honey ($25 for 4 ounces), tinctures, topical oil and other products at ushempcare.com.

“We provide a safe and legal nonpsychoactive alternative to opioids and other overprescribed drugs,” he says. “Most people who take opioid products can use hemp instead for pain, inflammation, anxiety.”

Wentzel has no plans to expand his product line to THC if recreational is legalized.

“Not everybody likes to get high. If you can get the health benefits without getting high, do it,” he says.

“I don’t know anybody who has trouble finding pot whether they have a card or not,” he says. But “finding good CBD is hard. I really like the niche we’re in.”

The stigma behind cannabis is a major hurdle that must be overcome, he says.

“I really believe it’s an exit drug, not a gateway drug,” he says. “It gives people a way to find calm without opioids.”

Paint N Toke Parties

Luis Vega lives in Hamden but commutes to Worcester, Mass., to run his business, Paint N Toke. He’d rather work in Connecticut, and he plans to expand operations southward if recreational cannabis goes legal.

Until then, Vega is making money in the “cannabis tourism” industry, drawing clients from as far away as Pennsylvania. Vega hosts events in private homes. “I do this because of legality. In a public venue, you have to go through different process,” he says “I go where the laws and my lawyer allow me to.”

For about $150 to $200, adult clients (15 to 25 at a time) get admission, a meal with THC-infused and non-infused dishes, as much cannabis as they want to smoke, a lesson by an artist or chef, a goody bag and a $15 discount code for an Uber ride afterward. Admission is paid in advance; at the event, no cash is exchanged and no tips or donations are allowed.

Vega got the idea at one of the “paint and sip” nights that are popular in bars. Vega has Crohn’s disease. He can’t drink alcohol, but he does have a medical marijuana card.

“There were about 35 people there. … I was going outside to smoke. Half the room joined me,” he says. “They were like, ‘Look who’s smoking a joint outside.’ Somebody else said ‘It’s going legal in all these states. Why not just do this?’”

So he did, with his wife Jessica, starting last January. They hold about one event a month. Vega buys and keeps all his supplies in Massachusetts so as not to risk breaking the law when driving from and to Hamden.

Vega pointed out that “cannabis tourism” goes both ways. He refuses to vacation in states where medical cannabis is not legal. “I can’t take my medicine there," he says.

The Vegas also offer CBD-infused dinner parties in Connecticut. Nobody has taken them up on that yet.

Vega is worried about the move last week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to allow federal law enforcement to crack down on businesses and people who sell cannabis in states where use is legal. Nonetheless, he sees it as a call for increased advocacy.

“We need to take action as a people to push the laws forward. It will make us become more active,” he says. “I don’t let people scare me.”

Information at paintntoke.com.

Topstone

Will Bosch’s product, Topstone, is geared toward medical marijuana patients, like himself. Nonetheless, he operates independent of the medical community because he wasn’t happy with the supplies he found there.

Bosch, who lives in Redding, was a competitive cyclist. In 2014, he went to Colombia to train, riding his bicycle up and down a volcano to build strength. It worked: He had top 10 finishes in five races. Then he got sick.

“I was gaining weight. I couldn’t recover. I brought some parasites home with me,” he says. “I went from 156 pounds, my race weight, … all the way up to 208 pounds.” Bosch is 6 foot 3.

He was prescribed drugs, which caused him to lose too much weight. So he was diagnosed with wasting syndrome and got a medical marijuana card. “The medical cannabis really helped stabilize my weight, reduce inflammation and helped me deal with the side effects from the other prescriptions,” he says.

He didn’t like smoking, preferring to use an inhaler-like vaporizer to ingest his medication. But the vaporizers sold by dispensaries were hard to clean, they clogged up, they leaked, had a short lifespan.

“I wanted to design something that was easy to clean and pull apart, where you could see the medicine, what was going on inside,” he says. He sells vaporizers only; clients must buy their meds at a dispensary.

“A vaporizer doesn’t smell like smoking does,” he says. “It sits on the counter and looks beautiful. You pick it up, use it, feel better, put it down. It’s made in the U.S. with natural materials, no plastic.”

Information at topstoneprojects.com.

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