What’s next as Connecticut looks ahead toward legal cannabis
Connecticut is poised to become the 19th state to legalize adult, recreational use of cannabis, now that a long-awaited bill has cleared the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has said he’ll sign it into law. While it will be legal as of July 1 for adults 21 years and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams) of marijuana, it’s likely going to take at least a year before an industry is up and running.
Here’s a look at what to expect:
WHAT HAPPENS FIRST?
Beginning July 1, the bill allows individuals age 21 and older to possess or consume up to 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams) of “cannabis plant material” and up to 5 ounces (141.7 grams) in a locked container in a home or in the trunk or locked glove box in the person’s vehicle.
Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection began working in earnest on new state regulations and licensing applications needed for the legalized marijuana industry a couple months ago. The department will continue those efforts and begin to ramp up the hiring of new agency staff. Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull said she expects several dozen people will be hired for investigation and compliance work, licensing and communications. Seagull said the new hiring will be intentionally staggered. For example, once the businesses are up and running, that’s when the agency will have a grater need for investigators or inspectors.
BUILDING UPON MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Connecticut legalized medical marijuana through legislation passed in 2012. Nearly a decade later, as of June 13, there were 54,227 registered patients, 18 dispensary facilities, four producers and 1,451 registered physicians. Seagull said her agency plans to use a lot of what’s been learned from building the medical program when it comes to creating and regulating a new recreational system. That includes coming up with packaging protocols and labeling to prevent the drug from being mistaken as a non-cannabis product and getting into the hands of a child, as well as lab testing other product safety measures.
“Whether you’re using it as medical or adult use, you should know what’s in your product and those labels should be there,” she said. “They should be manufactured using appropriate manufacturing standards.”
There will be different ways for people to apply to get involved in the state’s new adult cannabis market. For example, existing businesses will be able to apply to convert and to start offering products to the adult market.
The expectation, Seagull said, is that half of the licenses will be made available to social equity applicants, which include residents of communities that have been “disproportionately impacted” by drug-related crimes and high unemployment. A new 15-member Social Equity Council will be charged with ensuring those individuals benefit from the system and coming up with recommendations for what’s expected of equity applicants for retailer, hybrid retailer, cultivator, microcultivator, product manufacturer, food and beverage manufacturer, product packager, transporter, and delivery service licenses. Some people may need to go through a lottery, depending on the number of applicants. Meanwhile, there will be a parallel track for other applicants for the same licenses.
Seagull said applications should be available in the upcoming months. Interested parties should watch the agency’s website for updates.
Considering marijuana is still considered a federally prohibited controlled substance – therefore preventing many marijuana-related businesses from using banking services – Connecticut’s legislation requires the state Department of Banking commissioner to come up with recommendations for the General Assembly by Jan. 1 on how to address the challenge. The bill specifically seeks proposals for how to facilitate the use of electronic payments by cannabis establishments and consumers and how to provide cannabis businesses in the state access to depository banking and commercial mortgages.
The bill also requires the state’s insurance commissioner to report back to the governor and state lawmakers by Jan. 1 on cannabis establishments’ access to insurance.