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Marijuana Law Sparks Questions About Process and Corporate Interests

Connecticut’s new recreational marijuana law established a social equity council tasked with ironing out the implementation of equity components of the legislation. 

The council held its inaugural meeting Thursday morning, where they passed a list of geographical areas deemed to be disproportionately affected by the war on drugs — and debated the speed of the process and fears that equity would be quickly co-opted by corporate interests.

The state plans to prioritize applicants for marijuana licenses who hail from those communities.  

Gov. Ned Lamont’s associate policy director, Patrick Hulin, presented a list of disproportionately impacted areas compiled by the governor’s office. Between 1982 and 2020, two thirds of drug convictions in the state took place in these areas, which hold just 23 percent of the state’s population, Hulin said. 

The law tasked the council with defining these geographical areas by August 1, so by the first meeting, the group was already four days behind schedule. Establishing criteria for proposals for an equity study had an August 6 deadline, but the council voted to push the deadline back to September 15. 

When first asked to vote to approve the disproportionately impacted areas, council member Corrie Betts raised concerns about the speed with which the group was asked to rubber stamp the list. 

“I just find it just a bit troubling to be voting on a disproportionate area on our first meeting without really having these true discussions,” Betts said.   

Still, Betts and the other council members voted unanimously to approve the designation, and to push forward on what multiple members called an “ambitious” timeline 

“Patrick and the team have put a tremendous amount of thought into researching this, and while it’s not perfect, I would suggest that maybe we not let the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good,” said Andrea Comer, council chair and interim deputy commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection. 

Julianne Avallone, legal director of the Department of Consumer Protection, also presented at the meeting, sharing details on the social equity licensure process. In the process, some council members raised concerns about restrictions on social equity applicants not being strong enough to prevent them being co-opted by corporate interests. 

“There could be a cannabis conglomerate that comes in and says, these are the four licenses that were granted, I’m going to pay a lot of money for these licenses on day two and month two, and how do we think about that because it’s not going to achieve what this group wants,” said David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. 

State Treasurer Shawn Wooden echoed Lehman’s concerns. 

“Some of us have seen this in the contracting space where contracts are secured under programs like this and not even one day of work is ever performed on it, they’re sold off, and that is definitely not the intent of what we’re doing here,” Wooden said. 

Still, Avallone said that placing additional restrictions on social equity business owners could hamper their economic opportunities in the long run. 

“What we didn’t want to do was make it so that there was a social equity business that was established that then we’re restricting someone from being able to sell their interest,” said Julianne Avallone, legal director of the Department of Consumer Protection. “Though we want the owner to maintain ownership from the time they apply to the time the business goes live, on an ongoing basis, we don’t want to restrict them more than what another owner could do with their assets.” 

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