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    Thursday, February 29, 2024

    Social Equity Council reverses several cannabis application denials

    The state’s Social Equity Council met Monday morning to deal with lawsuits filed against the state for the council’s past denial of applications. Some of its discussion took place behind closed doors.

    Later Monday, the council reversed six earlier denials for social equity status. Those applicants will now work with the state Department of Consumer Protection on the ensuing review process. The council did not provide details about the applicants and their location.

    The Council also reversed a July decision to deny a social equity application from The Goods THC Co and Hartford Cannabis Company, conferring social equity status to the companies, which will now move on to work with the DCP on the licensure process.

    Also announced during Monday’s meeting was the launch of a low-interest loan program, worth $50 million in all, for social equity applicants.

    The Council has approved 69 applications since it began its review process, according to spokesperson Kristina Diamond. There are still outstanding applications to be approved.

    Workforce development plans to ensure equity from two companies — including Curaleaf, which owns cannabis businesses in southeastern Connecticut — were approved on Monday, but not without pushback from Council member Subira Gordon. The workforce plans are one of the approvals that prospective cannabis businesses need to obtain.

    Gordon referenced the $3 million buy-in for social equity applicants, saying, “It’s very, I don’t want to say skewed to individuals with a lot of resources, but the least you can do is prove to us” that the applicant is thinking about how to connect to communities of color. Social equity applicants often have to partner with businesses to raise the $3 million.

    Gordon said she did not believe the two workforce development plans did not provide evidence it was connecting with their communities, and voted against them.

    Council Chair Andréa Comer responded by saying based on the criteria the council developed, “these plans did pass.”

    “I put that out there because we just came out of executive session … I’m thinking about challenges from a litigation perspective,” Comer said.

    Almost 38,000 cannabis licensing applications have been submitted. About 24,000 of the applications come from social equity applicants, and the rest from general lottery applicants. Social equity applicants must have resided in a Disproportionately Impacted Area — a geographical area disproportionately impacted the war on drugs — for, at minimum, five of the last 10 years before applying for a license, or nine years before they turned 18. Their average household income must be less than 300% of the state median income over the three years before applying, and they must own at least 65% interest in a cannabis business. The state median income is about $80,000.

    The equity applicant program is designed to allow these applicants to have an easier and separate process to start a marijuana enterprise, rather than competing with corporations. Data shared by the DCP shows the number of applications for each of the eight license types: delivery service, food and beverage manufacturer, micro-cultivator, product manufacturer, product packager, cannabis retailer, cannabis transporter and medical hybrid retailer.

    The Council approves who can enter into the social equity applicant lottery. The general lottery will consist of social equity applicants who weren’t chosen in the social equity lottery and entities that do not qualify as social equity applicants.

    Cannabis businesses are looking to set up shop in Norwich and New London, Stonington and East Lyme have voted to allow cannabis businesses, while Waterford is grappling with the decision.

    A Norwich proposal for a dispensary on Forest Street could have been in jeopardy with recently updated criteria established by the state Social Equity Council that eliminated a Census tract’s unemployment rate as a factor in where cannabis cultivation facilities could obtain an easier state licensing path. The change, which focused on criminal drug convictions, greatly reduced Norwich’s designated disproportionately impacted areas. But the Forest Street application will be allowed to proceed under the old 2021 rules.


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