Jesse Flores, Illustration Editor
Lines stretched out the door of the Affinity dispensary last Tuesday morning in anticipation of the 10 a.m. launch of legal recreational cannabis sales in Elm City.
A year and a half after the state of Connecticut legalized the drugRetail sales of adult-use cannabis officially began on January 10. Affinity Dispensary, New Haven’s only adult-use cannabis seller, has been serving the New Haven community since 2019, exclusively distributing cannabis for medical use. Now, Affinity is one of nine coeducational dispensaries in the state, which means it can serve both the adult medical and recreational market.
“The crowd of adult patients who have been coming so far over the past week, are very happy to have us here,” said Affinity owner Ray Pantalina. “They are so encouraged that we are here. Their experience has been nothing but exceptional.”
Cannabis customers faced a set of regulations when they arrived at Affinity on Tuesday morning.
“It was really jammed, like non-stop traffic,” Affinity employee Leandre Boyd told The News. “I would say it was a little overwhelming at first because, you know, on the first day neither of us used to it. I remember seeing like 300 pre-orders.”
Customers who must be 21 years of age or older can purchase up to 1/4 ounce of hemp flower or equivalent in time. The limit would protect 50,000 medical marijuana patients in Connecticut by ensuring that demand does not exceed supply, Caitlin Craselt, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, or DCP, explained.
Outside the store, adults can freely own and use up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and store up to 5 ounces in a closed container. Adults will also be able to grow cannabis at home for recreational use from July 1.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elliker and other city officials made additional safety recommendations at a news conference Jan. 9.
“We expect more people to buy, own and use marijuana,” Elicker said. “We’re not expecting a massive, massive rise. I think we can be real in that marijuana has been available to a lot of people for a long time.”
Elicker stressed the importance of keeping cannabis products away from children and not driving under the influence. New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond encouraged cannabis users to “lock up,” “label,” and “restrict” their purchases. Police Chief Carl Jacobson said the police department will also monitor increased traffic around Affinity, and advised customers not to open their purchases in their vehicles.
Jacobson added that residents cannot bring marijuana across state lines or use it in nonsmoking areas. He said landlords can ban smoking or vaping on their properties, but not food use.
Bo Sandin, public educator with the New Haven Department of Health, noted that community education has been the “primary focus” of the department as they prepare to launch retail marijuana sales.
“We have provided messages to New Haven schools, parents and the general community,” Sandin told the newspaper. “Led by our health programs team, we have been educating the public through our social media and outreach platforms.”
From medicine to marketing
Medical marijuana dispensaries hoping to expand into the state’s new adult use market have faced a slew of regulations.
A longtime New Haven native, Pantalena worked as a pharmacist before starting Affinity. After seeing many of his patients find success treating several underlying conditions with cannabis, Pantalena became interested in medical marijuana, seeing it as “something different from a traditional pharmacy.”
Affinity’s process to obtain a license as a hybrid vendor began this past February. In addition to filing papers, it has become a mixed dispensary that requires compliance with several safeguards put in place by the state government and the DCP.
Vendors applying for mixed status were also asked to submit a medical preservation plan that outlined how the dispensary would ensure that its patients continued to receive appropriate care.
“We take care of medical patients,” Pantalina said, describing Affinity’s conservation plan. “They have priority over everyone else. They don’t have to wait in any lines. They don’t have to wait inside. We’ve only dedicated people to the medical program… We’ve tried to make every accommodations to make sure that putting up adults doesn’t affect them negatively.”
In converting to a mixed infirmary, Affinity also had to double its staff size from 20 to 40 and make some redesigns, according to Pantalena.
According to both Pantalena and Krasselt, neither Affinity nor other combination dispensaries across the state experienced supply issues or difficulty serving the medical and recreational markets in this first week. Pantalena credited DCP’s careful and considered direction for the success of Affinity’s transition to a hybrid model.
Currently, the cannabis market in Connecticut is served by four state growers who have had to expand their businesses and production facilities to serve the adult use market. In addition to these four, DCP is currently reviewing a number of other applications for commercial licenses in the cannabis market.
“While our current producers have managed this supply chain, entirely in our medical market, as the adult use market grows, there are a number of other businesses that will open that will support that supply chain,” Crassalt told the paper.
Account of the war on drugs
Senate Bill 1201, which legalized adult use of cannabis, included multiple provisions to address the historical discriminatory effects of criminalizing the drug. In addition to erasing some cannabis-related convictions from people’s records, the bill aims to support equality in the cannabis market, including a measure that would give people from marginalized communities priority in obtaining licenses.
The DCP created both a “Social Justice Lottery” and a “Public Lottery” for licenses to grow, manufacture, transport, and sell cannabis products. Half of the total licenses were allocated to each lottery pool. Social Justice Forerunners need Have a median household income of less than 300 percent of the state median income, and have needed to reside — or reside as a child — in an area that has been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, as evidenced by their high conviction rates for drug-related crimes.
Several New Haven Census areas are designated as “disproportionately affected,” including parts of Fair Haven, Newhallville, and Beaver Hills.
Social Justice Lottery winners also have free access to the Cannabis Business Accelerator Program, which is led by the Hartford Social Nonprofit reSET, and Oak Amsterdam University, a cannabis college based in Oakland, California. The eight-month program, which began this month, provides training, technical assistance, and comprehensive services.
“This industry is so tough. It’s ridiculous… The only thing Oxyco is trying to be for these participants is a lifeboat. We can help shine a light on what is a confusing and difficult process,” said Dale Sky Jones, Oak President and CEO. .
Jones added that the ongoing stigma and legal uncertainty around the marijuana market means that entrepreneurs face additional challenges when securing insurance, banking and other necessary services.
Among the new state marijuana businesses opening next year are 26 new growers who work with and have received approval from the Council for Social Justice, according to Crasselt.
More than half Some of the state’s revenue from retail cannabis sales will also be directed to the Social Justice and Innovation Fund, which will make investments in and out of the cannabis market.
The goal of the Social Justice Council, Crasselt said, is to ensure “these people [disproportionately impacted] Communities have priority access to licensing, and if they’re not interested in working in the cannabis industry, that revenue that the industry generates is funneled back into those communities for business acceleration programs, community reinvestment and things like that. “
In Connecticut, cannabis is subject to state and local sales taxes, as well as a potency tax based on the THC content of the product.