Connecticut cannabis activists believe that legalization of recreational cannabis isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. They’re anticipating the time when the Nutmeg State emulates neighboring Massachusetts. These activists aren’t looking forward to getting high. They’re looking forward to helping entrepreneurs embrace the possibilities of the cannabis industry.
Kebra Smith-Bolden of New Haven is ready. As a registered nurse, Smith-Bolden is also director of two organizations that promote cannabis business ventures: Women Grow Connecticut (facebook.com/womengrowct) and Cannabis Consultants of Connecticut (ctcannsonsulting.com). She also is CEO of CannaHealth (cannahealthct.org), a cannabis health and wellness center in New Haven.
“It’s inevitable. Massachusetts legalized. Jersey is about to go legal. Seventy-one percent of Connecticut residents are pro-legalization,” she says, citing a recent poll by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. “We need an economic and employment stimulus in this state. With cannabis, there are opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs. This is a multibillion-dollar industry.”
Starting Jan. 20, CannaHealth is offering Cannabis Basic Training in Bridgeport. The six-course program will be on the third Saturday of each month until June. The first class is on cultivation. Ellen Brown of Boston-based Sinsemilla Seminars will teach that class. Smith-Bolden will teach Medical Cannabis on Feb. 17. Other subjects, with dates to be determined, include Cannabis Law (taught by Bloomfield attorney Aaron Romano); Cannabis Business and Entrepreneurship (taught by Hamden businessman Luis Vega); and Cannabis Dispensary Services and Cannabis Science (teachers to be determined).
“People are uneducated about what the plant can do and its benefits,” Smith-Bolden says. “People are a little wary to talk about it. My thing is to get people involved now.”
Joe LaChance of Stratford, deputy director of the Connecticut chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), based in Orange, is helping Smith-Bolden organize the basic-training courses. He uses medical cannabis for diverticulosis. (Smith-Bolden uses it for PTSD.)
“There usually is a pattern. Neighboring states will fall in line as time goes on. Most of them like to wait and see. Out west, Colorado came first, then Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California. The whole West Coast is legal now,” he says. “Now we have Massachusetts. Vermont is seriously contemplating it. Rhode Island is seriously contemplating it. It would be in Connecticut’s best interest to follow suit.”
Women Grow also is hosting a Connecticut Cannabis Product Show on Jan. 18 in Bridgeport. LaChance and other vendors selling cannabis products will show and sell their wares.
Jeff Sessions Fallout
Smith-Bolden and LaChance are not deterred by the recent decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw the provisions of the Obama-era Cole memo, which limited federal prosecutions of businesses and people who sold cannabis in states where the activity is legal.
Smith-Bolden even saw a bright side to Sessions’ move. “Now this might push Congress to say something definitive on the matter,” she says. LaChance does not believe Sessions’ decision will have the impact cannabis activists fear.
“He has gotten too much push-back on this issue, even from members of his own party,” he says.
Medical cannabis is legal in Connecticut and possession of small amounts has been decriminalized for the first and second offenses. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy opposes recreational legalization. At a NORML event last year, three 2018 gubernatorial candidates — Dan Drew, Jonathan Harris and Micah Welintukonis — backed legalization and taxation of cannabis. One, Prasad Srinivasan, expressed his opposition. Last year, the Hartford City Council passed a resolution approving recreational legalization. That was not legislation, but rather a show of support.
Jeff Wentzel of Niantic also believes legalization is only a matter of time. Wentzel’s firm, US Hempcare, sells honey, tinctures, topical oil and other products infused with CBD, a hemp distillate that has no psychoactive properties but retains medicinal benefits.
“I lived in New York when they said they would never have casinos. All that revenue was bleeding into Connecticut and New Jersey for years,” Wentzel says. “I think Connecticut will be in the same position. How much tax revenue are we going to lose by people driving over the borders to spend money in other states? It’ll all come down to money eventually.”
Those who learn about cannabis employment opportunities before legalization, Smith-Bolden says, will have a competitive jump on the many who wait until after legalization. LaChance agrees.
“I worked at the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in Natick [Mass.],” LaChance says. “Students would take the classes and go out and start their own businesses. Then legalization came. The boom after legalization was amazing. Before there were 10 people in my classes. Then it doubled.”
Beth Waterfall of Elevate New England, a Massachusetts cannabis-industry advocacy group, says interest in cannabis has gone mainstream since recreational legalization. “The Boston Center for Adult Education reached out to me to help develop cannabis-related programming with them,” she says. “I pitched the idea a year ago but was told it was premature. Now they have unanimous board support to develop a variety of classes.”
Legalization lured many out of the shadows. “It brought that veil down,” Waterfall says. “People think, it’s legal now, I’m not a criminal, I’m not some strange, seedy person interested in cannabis.”
Yale School of Management is ready for legal cannabis, too. On Feb. 16, the school will hold a Business of Legal Cannabis Conference, the first cannabis conference ever held at an American business school. Subjects to be discussed at the student-led event include diversity, women in cannabis, health care, private equity, venture capital, branding, marketing, cultivation, sustainability, history of cannabis in the United States and global cannabis opportunities. Smith-Bolden will participate in a panel on health and wellness.
CANNABIS BASIC TRAINING is the third Saturday of each month starting Jan. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 955 Connecticut Ave., Suite 4B, Bridgeport. Tuition is $195 per course, $995 for six, $150 per course for veterans, students, medical marijuana patients and NORML members. Details here.
BUSINESS OF LEGAL CANNABIS CONFERENCE will be at Edward P. Evans Hall, 165 Whitney Ave., at Yale University in New Haven, on Feb. 16 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is open to the public and ranges from $45 to $145. Details here.
CONNECTICUT CANNABIS PRODUCT SHOW is Jan. 18 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at 955 Connecticut Ave., Suite 4B, Bridgeport. Admission is $25. facebook.com/womengrowct/