The Commissioner of Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission said Connecticut should take its time in standing up a legal recreational cannabis market, partly to ensure the market isn’t dominated by large players.
“From an equity standpoint, if you roll out fast the people who are ready to open stores day-one are the big guys,” Steven Hoffman, chairman of the CCC, said Wednesday in a keynote speech during Hartford Business Journal’s Business of Cannabis event. “If you open everything up quickly, [equity businesses] will never catch up.”
Hoffman said regulators in Massachusetts endured a lot of criticism for what many complained was a slow pace in starting up the legal recreational cannabis market in that state. It took the Bay State about two years from the time voters passed cannabis legalization via ballot referendum to when the state’s first adult-use cannabis stores opened to the public.
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Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
Massachusetts lawmakers spent months following a 2016 voter referendum writing specific legislation to set up a retail market and form the Cannabis Control Commission, which regulates the state’s marijuana industry. The first adult-use cannabis sales began in November 2018.
“I will tell you, we took enormous amounts of bad publicity and pressure about the pace of the rollout,” Hoffman said. “But in retrospect, I’m incredibly proud that we did it right.”
However, in a slight pushback from the cannabis business community, Fine Fettle Chief Operating Officer Benjamin Zacks — whose company operates medical and adult-use dispensaries in Massachusetts and Connecticut — said a slow rollout could have deleterious effects on the Connecticut market’s ability to compete with other legal states.
Zacks pointed out that, in addition to the existing legal market in Massachusetts, Connecticut’s two tri-state sisters also recently legalized recreational cannabis.
“It’s a race right now for Connecticut against this state called New York, and this other state called New Jersey,” Zacks said. “If Connecticut wants to bring in as much as possible, it’s about us moving quickly to get to sales to bring in tax revenue.”
Nearly 200 people attended the HBJ event, which aimed to explore how Connecticut businesses can capitalize on this emerging industry while navigating the constantly evolving matrix of state compliance regulations. Other speakers included state House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Rojas, Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull, and professionals in the legal and financial industries.