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Approved marijuana licenses raise equity questions

Last week, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) announced that 16 new applications for marijuana cultivators from Disproportionately Impacted Areas (DIA) had been approved. However, questions are being raised as to whether or not the approved applications adhere to the state’s social equity requirements.

While marijuana prohibition and the War on Drugs decimated Black and Hispanic communities nationwide, Connecticut arrested Black people for marijuana possession at a rate four times that of their white counterparts as recently as 2018, despite similar usage rates. 

In an attempt to atone for the disproportionate racial policing of marijuana, after cannabis was made legal in Connecticut, the Lamont administration appointed 15 members to the Social Equity Council which was created to promote diverse participation in an industry that has been 81% white business owners. 

The General Assembly created a set of requirements that, if prospective marijuana cultivators could meet, would make them eligible for a special lottery that would significantly decrease the amount of money the applicant would need to spend on the licensing process. The law firm CohnReznick was hired by the council to review and make recommendations on who should be approved or denied.

According to the state’s cannabis information webpage, to qualify as a social equity applicant, the applicant must:

  • Own or control at least 65 percent of the business
  • Have an average household income of fewer than three times the state median household income over the last 3 tax years
  • Be a resident of a disproportionately impacted area (DIA) for at least 5 of the past 10 years or have been a resident of a DIA for at least 9 years before the age of 18

But, some are questioning if the applications of the approved social equity marijuana cultivators meet these requirements. A Reddit user going by the handle “Ickmatic” made a post in response to an article by Hartford Business Journal about the 16 applicants that were approved comparing the information provided by the applicants against the state’s requirements.

“There seems to be a bit more to this than just the councilwoman getting a license,” the Redditor said. “The linked article shows all the approved companies and their owners. Many of these are very suspicious and I did some looking around.” 

What “Ickmatic” found was that many of the applicants listed addresses from out of state, or outside of DIAs. 

The Yard lists Christina Visco, CEO of TerraVida Holistic Centers, one of Pennsylvania’s largest medical marijuana dispensaries, as its owner with a Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania address, while its agent appears to be another Pennsylvania native currently attending college at Fairfield University. The student’s business address matches the owner’s, while the residence address listed is a beachfront house in Fairfield, outside any DIA.

The application by Connecticut Social Equity LLC lists Linares Faye LLC as an owner, the business address of the LLC is not in a DIA. None of the three people listed as owners of the Linares Faye LLC, Luis Arturo Linares, Arthur Linares and Brian Faye, list addresses that are located in a DIA. The other owner listed on the Connecticut Social Equity LLC application, Steven Van Scoy, does list an East Haven address that falls into a DIA.

One of the principals of Connecticut Social Equity LLC also has deep political connections, the CT Examiner recently reported. Arthur Linares is a former state senator who held office from 2013 to 2018. Linares is also the husband of Stamford mayor Caroline Simmons.

Another applicant, The Flower House, lists no addresses that fall in DIA neighborhoods for its three owners, Ann Marino, Chad Simard and Christopher Perotti. 

Many of the other applicants list addresses based in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania in their applications. Marimed, Nova Farms, River Growers and The Yard, all list out-of-state addresses on their applications. 

It is unclear from information made publicly available from the DCP whether these applicants qualified by being a resident of a DIA for at least 9 years before the age of 18. It should be noted however that backers of the applicant do not need to meet the social equity requirements set forth by the state, as long as they do not control more than 35 percent of the business. The Social Equity Council did not respond to requests for additional information.

According to a press release from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, the approved applications will not have to undergo a background check, and if it comes back satisfactory, the applicants will be invited to pay the necessary fees and establish their business.

Adding to the questions about whether or not applicants meet the DIA requirements, the Redditor also questioned the likelihood that some of the applicants, being successful business owners, fell below the income threshold mandated by the state. When reached for comment, the poster said that the social equity requirements simply aren’t accomplishing their stated goal.

“[The] social equity requirements do not seem sufficient and it is very suspicious and puzzling that politicians, very wealthy, and out-of-state companies are getting licenses from the social equity drawings,” Ickmatic said.

Others, like local marijuana activist Ivelisse Correia, whose father went to prison for three and a half years for selling marijuana in the late 90s, question what the state’s idea of equity is and whether equity is being achieved under the current laws.

“When I think about equity, I think about a blanket pardon for everyone who’s ever had a sentence enhancement due to cannabis, anyone who’s ever been convicted of a cannabis offense,” Correia said. “I think about average drug dealers on Albany Avenue being able to obtain their licenses, hire their friends and create a storefront right there.”

An amendment to the marijuana legalization bill introduced by State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven would have prioritized licenses to sell marijuana to those previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes and their immediate family members. However, Gov. Lamont threatened to veto the legislation if that language weren’t removed.

“I want average drug dealers to be able to sell their products, and instead of being called drug dealers, to be called a dispensary owner… an entrepreneur,” Correia said.

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Tom Hopkins

A national, award-winning journalist from Bristol, Tom has a passion for writing. Prior to joining CII, he worked in print, television, and as a freelance journalist. He has taken deep dives into sexual assault allegations by Connecticut professors, uncovered issues at state-run prisons, and covered evictions in the New Britain Herald. He chose to focus on issues based in Connecticut because this is his home, and this is where he wants his work to make the greatest impact.

1 Comment

  1. bruce bourque
    July 27, 2022 @ 12:34 pm

    Typical Ct. government B.S. . Say one thing , call it law , then do whatever they want . I would like to see you folks dig deeper and keep us posted on the operations . Hope you can be a watchdog for we the people and not just a spokesperson for government .

    Reply

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