Medical Marijuana Advocacy Group Focuses on Patients
WETHERSFIELD - About a year and a half ago, Rocky Hill resident Jessica Pelletier was in the hospital having six tumors--four in her breasts and two in her stomach--removed.

       “I spent most of last year in the hospital,” Pelletier said. “And I had a friend who died from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”

       Pelletier knew that she wanted to be part of a solution, and a better one, to conditions like cancer. When she got out of the hospital in August of last year, Connecticut had just legalized medical marijuana and announced a state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) licensing program for dispensaries and growers. Pelletier had already done the research, spending her bed-ridden months reading studies reporting that cannabis can kill cancer cells in addition to alleviating the symptoms.

       “It’s funny how this was not available to the population, unless you medicate yourself, which is illegal here,” Pelletier said. “So many other medications are invasive.”

       Now it is, and Pelletier immediately got in line to set herself up to give cancer patients, as well as those suffering from other conditions, an alternative. In the time spanning from then until this past March, when she and her Biorelief Pharmaceuticals team--a group of fellow Rocky Hill residents that includes a licensed pharmacist--stood before the Wethersfield Town Planning and Zoning Commission, she has secured investors, assembled her staff, and embarked on Connecticut’s rigorous pathway to garner DCP approval.

       “It did happen very fast--almost overnight,” Pelletier said. “We had to create something ourselves.”

       One of her stops will be local TPZ meetings like this one. In addition to proof of reliable financial backing, a licensed pharmacist and a business plan, applicants for one of the five dispensary licenses that were being handed out needed zoning approval in the town in which they will be opening up shop. That is where Biorelief Pharmaceuticals has reached its first road block.

       On April 15, the Wethersfield TPZ enacted a year-long moratorium on passing local zoning regulations related to medical marijuana dispensaries after discussions during which commissioners voiced concerns regarding perceived ramifications for the town’s “character” and property values. With the DCP application window closed, but only for now, Pelletier and Biorelief will have to wait, but they have been anything but inactive.

       The focus has shifted to patient advocacy, Pelletier said.

       “The reason is the heavy restrictions and a short list of conditions,” she said. “There are a lot of debilitating conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana.”

       Currently, the DCP lists cancer, glaucoma, immune deficiency syndromes, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, nerve tissue damage, epilepsy, Cachexia, Wasting Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as conditions eligible under the state’s program. At a glance, it might seem extensive, but Pelletier thinks that Connecticut can do better.

       “Those people need it, so I’m glad those conditions qualify,” Pelletier said. “But we are pushing for medical marijuana for arthritis, insomnia, severe pain, and pediatric use for consistent seizures.”

       That effort will start on July 15, when the CT Safe Access--the advocacy coalition started by Pelletier and other Biorelief staff members--begins discussions with patients from around the state to discuss how to improve the state’s system. Biorelief has been doing its homework, with Pelletier traveling the west coast over the course of the past several months to meet with industry professionals in states where medical marijuana programs have taken off.

       “I think Connecticut should look to the success of other states,” she said. “Use regulations, because regulations are good, but [Connecticut’s are] too exclusive.”