Medical Marijuana Brings With it All Kinds of Other Speculation

Pot entrepreneurs are looking at potential medical marijuana growing sites in New Britain, Middletown, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Watertown. Venture capitalists are weighing dope investment opportunities. U.S. mayors are urging the feds to back off and let states handle the whole legal/not legal weed issue.

And Connecticut officials are moving steadily toward what they hope will be the first legal sales of homegrown Land-of-Steady-Habits marijuana by next summer.

The surge in states like Connecticut legalizing medical marijuana has triggered a corresponding surge in interest from the big money dudes on Wall Street and other U.S. and international financial centers. The burgeoning marijuana industry's potential for profits — and risks — have been highlighted in recent articles in the New York Times, Barrons, and the Daily Beast.

"We've definitely noticed an uptick, an increasing drumbeat in interest," says Jason Nickerson, one of the founders of Greenbelt Management, a new company that's hoping to create a state-licensed grow facility in Middletown. "Everybody's noticed it."

William M. Rubenstein certainly has. He's commissioner of consumer protection in Connecticut, and it's his agency that's at the pointy end of the regulatory stick as far as getting the marijuana program rolling and seeing that it works right. (Rubenstein could be considered "Connecticut's Pot Czar.")

The 100-plus pages of proposed medical marijuana rules released earlier this year need to win the OK from a legislative oversight committee, which has a meeting scheduled for the end of August. If those regs get approved, Rubenstein is hoping to get all formal applications for marijuana grow facilities in by the end of November and issue licenses "sometime after the first of the year."

"We will require production to begin no more than six months after the granting of a license," Rubenstein says. "We would hope it would be sooner."

Connecticut is one of 18 states that have legalized medical marijuana in one form or another. Analysts estimate the legal market for pot is now about $1.5 billion and that number is expected to shoot up faster than a seedling in a high-tech, indoor, hydroponic, temperature-controlled grow facility.

The wild card in all this is what the federal government might do. President Obama's pot policy has swung back and forth. Technically, federal statutes outlaw pot, which makes it very interesting to see what will happen in states like Colorado and Washington that have fully legalized marijuana.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last month urged Obama's administration to simply let the states decide this issue.

That resolution noted that 22 million marijuana arrests have taken place in the U.S. since 1965, and that something like 42 percent of Americans adults have used pot.

A recent Pew Research Center survey indicated that 52 percent of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana. That's the first time Pew has found a majority of people in the U.S. taking a pro-legal-pot stance.

Interest in creating marijuana production facilities in Connecticut is coming from all quarters. Some are local business folks with established operations in other fields, like Joseph Palmieri Jr., who owns Connecticut Tank Removal Inc. in Bridgeport and a farm in Easton. He told the Connecticut Post he's looking to do pot farming in Bridgeport.

There are those like Ethan Ruby from Colorado, who's been considering converting a Watertown industrial building into a pot-growing plant. Others are cooperating with foreign investors to prepare bids.

Erik Williams, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) is now involved in a new company called Biltin Advanced Propagation that was put together in March to get into this state's medical pot-growing industry.

Williams, who is chief operating officer of the new company, says his firm is using a Colorado marijuana outfit called Gaia as a consultant. Gaia both grows and dispenses medical pot in its home state.

The hunt for potential sites for grow facilities has been going on all over our little state. "I've crawled through the bellies of abandoned factories throughout Connecticut," Williams says. "We looked at probably 55 municipalities in Connecticut."

Biltin Advanced Propagation has leased space in a former factory in New Britain, Williams says, and plans to start out with 15 employees — assuming it can get licensed.

Nickerson says he and his brother Matthew aren't looking for outside investors. He says Greenbelt Management is a 100 percent family-owned operation, where the Nickersons plan to put up all the money. They do have a Colorado-based firm with expertise in the marijuana field named Denver Relief Consulting helping them out.

Connecticut's medical marijuana program is set to have between three and 10 grow operations. Anyone seeking to apply for the chance to create one of those facilities is going to have to show a $2 million bond or letter of credit. Estimates of the set-up costs of a grow operation start at $1.5 million.