Despite Ethical Questions, Lawyers Represent Marijuana Enterprises
When Jerry Farrell Jr. was the state's Department of Consumer Protection commissioner, he was responsible for ensuring that drug companies followed state laws governing the safety of their products.
Farrell is putting that regulatory background to work in a new venture, by leading a group of investors who have applied to operate a medical marijuana manufacturing facility in Meriden. Farrell, a lawyer who was the consumer protection chief from 2006 to 2011, believes his group has an edge over the more than 20 other entities who submitted applications with the state earlier this month to run to grow and sell medical marijuana.
"This industry is much more than people actually think; it's not about letting people sit around and smoke marijuana," Farrell said. "It's highly regulated, and our proposal is to develop capsules and transdermal patches, products which are fairly sophisticated from a medical standpoint. I have the background in medical business regulations to make sure it's going to be done right."
Farrell is one of dozens of attorneys in Connecticut who are involved with companies who are applying to grow or dispense medical marijuana. Though few — if any — others have a financial stake in a specific enterprise, many are helping with the formation of corporations, requests for zoning approval, forging of contracts with vendors and the drafting of employment contracts. "This is a highly regulated program, so naturally there is a lot of work for lawyers to do," Farrell said.
Last year, Connecticut became the 17th state to approve use of marijuana for a list of specific health problems, ranging from cancer to post traumatic stress, under some of the tightest regulations in the country. Since then, 1,243 patients have been certified to use medical marijuana, with the largest numbers being located in Fairfield County.
The application deadline for companies wishing to operate production and dispenary facilities was Nov. 15. Applications came from throughout the state, with a heavy representation from central and southern Connecticut, including Bridgeport, Waterbury and East Haven.
William M. Rubenstein, the current Consumer Protection commissioner, is overseeing the state's medical marijuana program. His office will review the 26 applications for dispensaries and 16 applications for production facilities before making final decisions. (Some businesses have submitted applications for both.) Rubenstein is award three production licenses and three to five dispensary licenses early next year.
Still A Stigma
It is anticipated that each marijuana manufacturing and sale business will employ 20 to 50 people, and inject millions of dollars into local tax bases. Nevertheless, Diane Whitney, a Pullman & Comley attorney who represents two investment groups trying to open medical marijuana operations, said her clients met with strong public opposition in Fairfield, which prompted zoning officials there to refuse to allow any marijuana-related business. Several town, including New Canaan, Westport, Ansonia and West Hartford, have issued moratoriums preventing consideration of marijuana facilities for a year.
Farrell, whose company is called Central Connecticut Health Ventures, is all-too-aware of the stigma still attached to such businesses. "I want to make it clear that I'm involved in this venture as a business person. I'm not acting in this transaction as an attorney," he said. Farrell indicated the company hired outside counsel to assist with the myriad of zoning, regulatory and corporate law issues that are involved in launching a medical marijuana business.