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What’s going on with Connecticut cannabis?

It’s been over a year since we’ve looked at the Connecticut cannabis industry as a whole. Back then, we were expecting dispensaries to open their doors by the end of this year. The narrative has since shifted a bit, with most sources expecting retail to launch in early 2023. 

The state faced a lot of pushback when it released the details for its social equity grower application,  which comes with a $3 million price tag. You read that right. Prospective social equity grower applicants would have to hand over several million dollars for consideration. 

“A hurdle that high, obviously, will keep folks out,” Mark Christie, one of Connecticut’s recently approved social equity applicants, previously told us

The only way to circumvent this application fee is to partner up with another business in an “equity joint venture,” where the other party does not have to be a social equity applicant. 

Outrageous fees are not the only social equity-related problem in the state, though. 

At a September meeting, council members found themselves confused about just how much money is available to invest into workforce development and other social equity-focused programs. 

“How much money are we giving back to the general fund? Do we have a record of that?” asked council member Michael Jefferson at the Social Equity Council meeting. “How much money are we not spending? How much money are we missing?… I’m sort of alarmed by it quite frankly.”

The chair of the council’s finance committee, Christine Shaw, told members that the council spent $239,000 out of its $3.9 million general fund dollars for 2022, noting that the unspent funds were not expected to roll over. Instead, they anticipated sending the money back to the state’s general fund. Which effectively removes funds for workforce development, technical assistance, and other promised programs. 

This is clearly at odds with the council’s duties, which include making sure that the state’s adult-use cannabis funds are reinvested to the communities impacted the most by the War on Drugs.

According to a spokesman from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management, the programs are still set to move forward, despite the council only spending a portion of its approved funding. 

Naturally, Connecticuters aren’t thrilled. As one resident commented on news of delayed sales, “Who would have thought that a 3 million dollar fee to get into the industry would be too much for pretty much anyone but very large corporations? Meanwhile, it costs $1850 to get a license to start a beer brewing business.” 

The Social Equity Council recently reversed six denied applications following numerous lawsuits by denied companies. Eleven of these complaints have been consolidated in New Britain Superior Court with plaintiffs saying that the panel took too long to disclose its rules on ownership and control, which left them without any time to adjust their applications. 

“Without admitting that the council erred in denying the license or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures, I believe it would be in the best interest of the council to reconsider these applications,” said council member Ojala Naeem.

As of mid November, the council has approved sixty-nine applicants, twenty-two of which are social equity cultivators. 

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