Marijuana leaf symbols have appeared in the window of a small office at 326 Central Ave., but you can’t knock on the door and buy ganja.
It’s not a dispensary.
Instead two nurses there will offer you instruction on medical marijuana and its use and how to find your niche in the fast-growing cannabis industry.
The nurses are Kebra Smith-Bolden and Lynne Kravitz. The office is home to their businesses, Cannabis Consultants of CT and CannaHealth.
Smith-Bolden, in addition to being a nurse, serves as the market leader for the Connecticut Chapter of Women Grow, a national organization aimed at attracting women to the cannabis industry and encouraging them to take leadership in creating businesses and advocating for the industry. She said the consulting business is aimed at anyone interested in the entrepreneurial side of the legal weed business, which currently means only medical marijuana in Connecticut.
Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, which made it to the State House of Representative floor for debate, were unsuccessful this past regular legislative session. New Haven’s state legislative delegation led the charge for legalization along with State Rep. Josh Elliott of Hamden, a recreational user, and Republican State. Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam.
Smith-Bolden and Kravitz support legal, regulated recreational use of marijuana for adults. In the meantime, they said, business opportunities beckon for people, particularly women, who want to join the cannabis and cannabis-adjacent industries while they wait for legalization.
“It is a full-service consulting firm,” she said of Cannabis Consultants of CT. “We’ll provide consultations on everything in the industry including opening a dispensary, or a grow facility and creating an application likely to get approved by the state to do either of those things.”
In addition to helping someone move through the state regulatory process, the consulting firm helps a “cannapreneuer” —an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry—find land for cultivating marijuana or staff to work in such a facility including security. It also offers to help would-be business owners navigate the red tape that would eventually come with a cannabis lounge if Connecticut does eventually legalize recreational use of marijuana.
Filling A Gap
CannaHealth is consulting on a more personal level for medical marijuana patients.
The two nurses, along with Canna Care Docs’ Gayle Klein, a board-certified physician out of Hartford, help patients navigate the process of becoming medically certified to use medical marijuana. Smith-Bolden said it can be quite a cumbersome and expensive process.
She should know. Not only is she an advocate; she is a medically certified patient.
To receive a medical marijuana card, a patient must be certified by a doctor for having one of the 22 debilitating diseases recognized for medical marijuana treatment for people over 18 in the state. Lawmakers have added six debilitating conditions that would qualify someone under 18 for access to medical marijuana.
Smith-Bolden said that visit is usually not covered by insurance. It can cost a patient $200 out of pocket who has go to another doctor if his or her regular physician is not certified by the state to prescribe medical marijuana. And there is a strong chance that a regular doctor doesn’t have that certification.
Statewide, 705 physicians, out of the more than 14,000, are certified to prescribe marijuana. To date, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, those doctors have registered more than 19,000 patients, including 4,426 in New Haven.
Once you are medically certified, you have to register with the state, which will cost you another $100. And you can’t just go to your local pharmacy to have your medical marijuana prescription filled. You have to pick one of the nine dispensaries in the state — there are none in New Haven proper — to have your prescription filled. You also have to wait up to 15 days for a temporary medical marijuana card before you can get your first prescription filled. The maximum allowable monthly amount of marijuana for a patient is 2.5 ounces. Smith-Bolden said it will cost you about $480 out of pocket. You also don’t get to try before you buy.
Smith-Bolden said where CannaHealth comes in is in providing medical marijuana patients instruction on how to properly use their medication. She said if you’ve used marijuana before, you might think you know everything about how to consume it — namely how to roll a joint. But there are numerous ways to consume cannabis. At nearly $500 for a monthly supply, you don’t want to discover you are wasting your medication, she said.
Smith-Bolden said that she met the previous commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, who helped implement the state’s medical marijuana program when it was approved by the legislature in 2012. He told her that discovered that patients didn’t know how to use their medicine and ended up wasting it and not getting its intended benefits.
“Even with me,” she said. “I’m pretty knowledgeable, but trying different things, including a spray for under the tongue,” was a waste.
“It was great, but it didn’t last,” she said of the pain-reducing side-effects that she needed. “In the real world, that’s called a care gap. If you or I had high blood pressure and no access, they would make sure we had access. That’s not the case with medical marijuana.”
She said CannaHealth will provide patients a comprehensive care plan that they can take to the dispensary. The includes information on the best strain of marijuana for the person’s condition as well as a health care professional who would provide at least three in-home visits to instruct the patient on how to use the medicine and get the most benefit. In addition to that, patients have access to a phone app allowing them 24/7 access to someone who can answer questions.
“It’s not complete home care,” Smith-Bolden, whose nursing background is in in-home care. Business partner Kravitz’s background is in mental health nursing. “We’d meet you at home and help you consume. It’s education and instruction. We teach you how to roll a joint, teach you to use your vape or make edibles. It’s a private paid service, but we’d try to make it as affordable as possible.”
CannaHealth also plans to provide training to nurses in skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities because they might be working with patients who are using cannabis to treat medical conditions. As with any other medication, the nurse has to know how to administer it.
“Their medication could be marijuana,” Smith-Bolden said. “They shouldn’t not be medicated because somebody doesn’t know how to help them.”
A Growth Industry
A growing number of people like Smith-Bolden and Kravitz have found or are looking for a way to get a foothold in the emerging cannabis industry.
The Department of Consumer Protection doesn’t track it, which is not uncommon among states, according to Marijuana Business Daily, which puts out this industry factbook. But DCP spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson said that the department is aware of businesses of all kinds that are springing up around the state’s medical marijuana program.
In her advocacy work with Women Grow, Bolden-Smith said she has met people who make vapes, oils and even products that eliminate odor. A Connecticut-based company called Kushley specializes in products that eliminate marijuana odor. The owner’s main business has been in eliminating odors from sources like sewage. The owners saw a market among medical marijuana users who don’t want to deal with the judgment and stigma that can come with smelling like weed after using perfectly legal medication.
Bolden-Smith said her company aims to promote the industry. That’s why Women Grow CT, also will operate out of the office on Central Avenue. The organization currently puts on networking events here in New Haven for those interested in the cannabis industry. They’re typically held the first Thursday of the month. (July’s event, which is called “Marijuana IS Medication,” will be on the second Thursday.)
At these events, she has discovered a community of cannabis consumers — legally or illegally, entrepreneurs, and investors who want to connect. She concluded that Women Grow could help connect them.
“There’s this community out here looking for a way to organize and to feel safe,” she said. “They want to find out what everybody is into, so that’s what we do every month when we have these networking events.”
Bolden-Smith said she and her business partner chose Westville for their office because they know the neighborhood. She grew up there, and Kravitz currently lives in there.
She said already people have stopped by curious about what the women are up to and have received positive feedback.
“We have had so many people just wanting to inquire and stop in and say, ‘We saw your sign,’” she said. “They send emails to [Women Grow] national headquarters. It’s a great spot and we get a lot of traffic here.
“But it’s also quiet,” she added. “I’m sure that half the neighbors consume cannabis in some way, shape or form. So again, it’s a way for people to know there are others like them nearby.”
They women have also started a nonprofit called A Sister’s Keeper to help raise money for patients who can’t afford to go through the process of becoming a medical marijuana patient and buy their first ounce of medication. That process and first purchase can cost on average $800, Bolden-Smith said. The first event is slated for August.
Click on or download the above audio file to listen to Bolden-Smith talk with WNHH The Show host Michelle Turner about how she became a marijuana-entrepreneur evangelist.