A Connecticut state official said on Wednesday that regulators working to implement the state’s legalization of cannabis still have many details to work out before accepting applications for business licenses and hinted that the launch of legal recreational marijuana sales may be delayed.
Connecticut became the fourth state to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2021 with the signing of legislation by Governor Ned Lamont in June. The law became effective on July 1, with lawmakers originally anticipating that legal sales of recreational marijuana to begin in the summer of 2022.
However, Michelle Seagull, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, said this week that the launch would likely come later.
“We’ve been suggesting that there will likely be sales by the end of 2022, and we’re still aspiring for that,” Seagull told local media. “Obviously, we have to see how things play out in the next few months.”
Seagull told the audience at a “Business of Cannabis” breakfast held by the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning that state regulators are still ironing out some of the details of legalization. One issue still being discussed is how to protect the existing market for medical marijuana, which began operating in 2012. Connecticut now has 18 licensed medical cannabis dispensaries across the state, all of which will be permitted to apply for a license to sell recreational cannabis, as well.
“It’s really important to us that we preserve the medical marketplace that currently does exist,” Seagull said. ‘It’s important to us that that market, which is working well and helping a lot of people, doesn’t get swallowed up.”
Many Decisions Left To Social Equity Council
Seagull also noted that many decisions still to be made, including what documentation will be necessary for social equity applicants, will be the responsibility of a social equity council appointed by Lamont and lawmakers. The 15-member panel met for the first time last month.
When asked about “large corporations trying to circumvent rules” to obtain social equity licenses, Seagull said that decision will be made by the social equity council, which will “need to take a look at ownership and corporate documents to understand who truly controls the business.”
An audience member, Matthew Ossenfort, said that he was considering a change in careers to the cannabis industry after 18 years in fashion. He asked if the criteria for social equity applicants could be expanded to include race, gender and sexual identity in order to more expressly prioritize participation in the cannabis industry by members of diverse groups.
“I hope the commissioner takes that question seriously, because my biggest fear is that if they only look at qualifications based on income, a bunch of licenses are going to go to people who can’t afford to actually get these businesses up and running, and the other licenses will all go to millionaires,” Ossenfort said. “The middle class should have a way into this industry, too.”
Kurt Smith, a panelist at the business breakfast who works as a consultant assisting cannabis businesses with licensing, planning, licensing and design, told the audience that legalization will affect many business sectors in Connecticut outside of the marijuana industry.
“They’re creating an entirely new industry that’s going to reach all of the businesses in this room,” Smith said. “The capital-intensive nature of this business makes it difficult for these companies to start up and have all of their own infrastructure, like HR and IT departments, so I think the ancillary business market is going to see that there is a lot of opportunity here.”
Smith is also a co-founder of Four Score, a licensed cannabis cultivator and retailer in Massachusetts. He suggested that Connecticut follow that state’s lead by making funding available to social equity applicants, noting that “many of the people who get social equity licenses won’t just have $20,000 sitting around to hire an architect.”
Smith also advised that rolling out Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis market will require patience and people should not expect regulations to be drafted right away.
“It’s going to take longer than everybody thinks,” Smith said. “It’s not going to happen on that timetable, because it always takes extra time to get these things right.”