WEST HAVEN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Connecticut officials have selected the first producers of medical marijuana in the state.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other officials announced the selection Tuesday of four producers who will operate facilities in West Haven, Portland, Simsbury and Watertown.

As WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reported, patient demand for medical marijuana has grown, prompting the state Department of Consumer Protection to issue four licenses where initially they were set to issue just three.

In all, 27 growers applied to operate facilities.

The move is designed to benefit seriously ill patients while safeguards will prevent abuses, state officials said.

Officials say licenses to dispense medical marijuana are expected to be awarded in the next two months and the drug should be available in the summer to qualified patients.

The law was passed in 2012 and allows the use of marijuana for patients suffering from one of 11 specific debilitating illnesses whose doctors believe the treatment is appropriate.

Malloy says such patients deserve compassion and understanding, not criminal prosecution.

Officials say 1,684 patients have been certified to participate in the program.

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