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Connecticut Looks For More Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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Just as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was cracking down on pot, Connecticut’s medical marijuana program announced that it was looking for more dispensaries. The challenges could just be getting started.

Sessions reversed an Obama-era policy not to prosecute marijuana cases. The day before the announcement, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection put out a Request For Applications for additional medical marijuana dispensaries.

It’s unclear if the reversal of those guidelines will have an effect on the state’s program. But that’s not holding them back, according to Lora Rae Anderson, the agency’s communications director.

“Here in Connecticut, we help over 22,000 very sick patients,” Anderson said. “So if the Department of Justice decided to move on this, they would be deciding to take medication away from over 22,000 very sick people. So what we’re doing is continuing to adhere to Connecticut law, which enables us to have this medical program. So we’re gonna move forward with the RFA.”

But Quinnipiac Law Professor John Thomas said Sessions’s reversal could definitely create some challenges for existing and new businesses.

“I suspect right now if you were in, say, California, which has just legalized recreational use and you wanted to get a loan or get a lease for a business, you’d have a really hard time doing that,” Thomas said. “By the same token, in Connecticut, if you want to get a loan or engage in the business of being a provider of medical marijuana you’d have a really hard time doing that.”

But Anderson said challenges are nothing new in the industry. Marijuana has always been illegal at the federal level since it’s classified as a schedule 1 drug - the most restricted category. But in more than 30 states where pot is legal in some form, including Connecticut, it’s classified as a schedule 2 drug.

That classification "means that we acknowledge that it has some medical value,” Anderson said. “Now obviously when you’re talking about schedule 1 controlled substances there are banking and insurance-related laws that are not directly regulated by the department of consumer protection that sometimes have implications in particular for large banks, large insurance companies, and that sort of thing.”

But neighboring Rhode Island is already feeling the impact. Two medical marijuana dispensaries in that state have lost their ability to accept debit cards. They were previously using a payment processing company that worked with a bank in Massachusetts where the U.S. attorney says there's no guarantee medical marijuana operations won't be prosecuted.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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