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Eager customers line up for cannabis as retail sales begin in Connecticut

MERIDEN CT 011023 - Daren made the first purchase today at Zen Dispensary in Meriden. Daren was celebrating his birthday today and purchase edibles to hopefully alleviate so leg pain. (Tony Spinelli for CT Public)
Tony Spinelli
Connecticut Public
The first retail sale at Zen Leaf Dispensary in Meriden was by a Bridgeport resident, Darren, who was celebrating his birthday Tuesday and purchased edibles to hopefully alleviate leg pain. Darren declined to provide his last name.

Connecticut’s first retail recreational cannabis sales began Tuesday as stores opened their doors to eager customers.

Erick Wichert was the first in line at Fine Fettle in Newington.

"Maybe my enthusiasm was more than anyone else," he said.

Wichert said he drove about 20 minutes from Plainville.

“It’s finally a regulated product. You don’t have to worry about what might be in it, like if you bought it off the street,” Wichert said. “It might be more expensive, but it's worth it.”

Nine medical marijuana operators in Connecticut successfully completed the steps needed to expand their businesses to include the new market for adults 21 and over, and seven were open Tuesday for adult-use customers.

At Fine Fettle in Newington, dozens of people lined up by the time adult-use sales began at 10 a.m.

At least 600 adult-use customers placed pre-orders for Tuesday alone, said Dennis So, the store’s general manager. A pharmacist by trade, So said he’s most passionate about serving the patients who weren’t able to get a medical card because their condition didn’t qualify.

“The fact that those folks can come in here and still purchase cannabis, and use it for medicine, I think it’s an incredible time in history for us to be able to do that in Connecticut,” So said.

As part of legalizing recreational sales, the administration of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said nearly 44,000 low-level cannabis convictions will be fully or partially erased thanks to Connecticut’s new “clean slate” law.

"Today marks a turning point in the injustices caused by the war on drugs, most notably now that there is a legal alternative to the dangerous, unregulated, underground market for cannabis sales,” Lamont said in a statement.

Now that sales in Connecticut are beginning, officials urged businesses and consumers to be responsible.

“It’s meant for adults,” said Michelle Seagull, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection. “You always have that risk, or concern, that people won’t take the responsibilities as seriously as they need to and the product will get into the wrong hands.”

New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson said Monday that providing cannabis to minors is illegal and can result in a felony endangerment charge.

He also said products must remain unopened while in the car.

“One of the illegal things is obviously driving under the influence,” he said. “But it’s also illegal for both passengers and drivers to use cannabis while the vehicle is operating.”

What you can buy

The state DCP said initial recreational sales will be limited to:

  • 1/4-ounce of cannabis flower, or
  • 4mL of vaporizer cartridges, or
  • 7 grams of pre-rolled joints, or
  • an equivalent edible product, or
  • A combination of different product types that collectively amount to no more than 1/4-ounce.

Those transaction limits are significantly lower than those in neighboring states Massachusetts and New York.
DCP said the limits will be reviewed and possibly changed, but they are in place now to ensure adequate supply for both adult-use consumers and medical marijuana patients, who will still be allowed to purchase up to 5 ounces per month.

Seagull said all retail cannabis products will be in child-proof packaging that's clearly labeled to help avoid confusion with children’s food.

Even though there are transaction limits, state officials said dispensaries will not track each sale. That means customers could potentially go to one dispensary, get their quarter-ounce and then go to another dispensary, according to a DCP spokesperson.

Seagull and the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection were expecting long lines at dispensaries Tuesday. Several dispensaries are encouraging, or even requiring, advance online orders.

Which stores have been approved for sales so far

The following medical marijuana dispensaries completed the necessary steps to add recreational sales to their operations and were able to begin selling cannabis products on Tuesday.

The Botanist in Danbury and Still River Wellness in Torrington are both eligible but said they will not be conducting adult-use sales until later this year.

    • Affinity Health and Wellness - New Haven
    • The Botanist – Danbury (*Not opening for retail sales Tuesday.)
    • The Botanist – Montville
    • Fine Fettle Dispensary – Newington
    • Fine Fettle Dispensary – Stamford
    • Fine Fettle Dispensary – Willimantic
    • Rise Branford (formerly Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut) - Branford
    • Still River Wellness - Torrington (*Not opening for retail sales Tuesday.)
    • Zen Leaf Meriden (formerly Willow Brook Wellness) - Meriden

    State officials said that as many as 40 more retailers, along with dozens of other marijuana-related businesses, could open by the end of 2023 but that stores will need time to build out their businesses and get state approvals.
    Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz spoke Tuesday at Zen Leaf in Meriden.

    “We are very excited about the economic growth we will see from this new industry,” Bysiewicz said. "We anticipate that there will be 10,000 new jobs created.”

    Officials hope the new marketplace will bring economic growth and reinvestment to the state and open a new chapter for communities harmed by past cannabis prohibition.

    Darren Weiss, chief operating officer of Verano, parent company of Zen Leaf and CTPharma, said cannabis sales are a great opportunity for the state and businesses like his.

    “Not only to serve patients and customers but to support our communities by employing folks from our communities and make sure our workforce mirrors and echoes the communities that we serve,” he said.

    Bysiewicz said legalizing cannabis for adults allows Connecticut to collect sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to other nearby states that already allow the sale of the drug, like Massachusetts. She said sales tax from marijuana purchases will be invested in communities that were hit the hardest by the war on drugs.

    On top of the usual 6.35% state sales tax, towns where cannabis shops are located get a 3% sales tax. There is an additional tax based on the amount of THC in the product sold.

    A 2021 state report estimates that cannabis sales could equate to roughly $26 million in municipal and state tax revenue in fiscal year 2024, growing to $73 million by 2026.

    Lawmakers hope to improve lottery system for cannabis license applicants

    Thousands of applications were submitted for a license to legally sell cannabis in Connecticut. But critics said the lottery favored applicants with deep pockets. That’s because applicants could apply as many times as they wanted as long as they paid to submit an application.

    Jeffrey Marrero told Connecticut Public's Where We Live that this put him at a disadvantage when he applied.

    “I don't see it being fair,” Marrero said. "People were allowed to do many multiple applications. So a person like myself that puts in one application … [has] no kind of chance.”

    Hearst Connecticut reported that some applicants paid for and submitted hundreds of applications in the lottery.

    Seagull told Connecticut Public she believes there is “room for improvement” in the lottery.

    Some lawmakers said they hope to address the issue in the current legislative session.

    Connecticut Public Radio’s Walter Smith Randolph, Matt Dwyer, Maricarmen Cajahuaringa and Michayla Savitt contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press.

    Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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