CT retail cannabis sales set to begin: Here’s what to expect

James Eaton

Connecticut’s first recreational cannabis retail shops will open Tuesday morning – a long awaited milestone in the state’s effort to decriminalize the drug and create an equitable legal market.

State officials gave permission to nine existing medical cannabis dispensaries to also sell in the adult use market and seven of them will start legal sales at 10 a.m. on Jan. 10 – the soonest allowed. Other new retail cannabis shops aren’t expected to open until later this year.  

Connecticut joins several other northeast states with recreational marijuana markets including Massachusetts and New Jersey, and more recently Rhode Island and New York. State officials targeted the end of 2022 to open the first legal pot shops in Connecticut but missed that deadline by 10 days.

No one is quite sure what demand will be like at Connecticut’s first legal pot shops – but many are expecting long lines and traffic in the initial days. The state has advised the nearly 50,000 patients registered in its medical program to shop prior to Tuesday morning.

Supervisor Alex Vecchio is prepared for an onslauught of customers for the Tuesday, January 10th opening day of recreational marijuana sales at the zenleaf marijuana dispensary in Meriden, Conn. on Friday, January 6, 2023.

Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media

“There’s going to be lines. And anyone that’s not thinking that is just, you’re dreaming. You’re fooling yourself,” said Vincent Bucchieri, general manager at Zen Leaf in Meriden, one of the first stores to start adult use sales.

The dispensary serves about 300 to 400 medical customers per day, Bucchieri said, and he expects demand from recreational customers will be much larger than that.

At RISE in Branford, formerly known as Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut, among the first medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, general manager Patty Marr said she’s anticipating high demand. The dispensary serves an average of 250 medical patients daily, Marr said.

“People in Connecticut been waiting a long time for access to cannabis,” she said. “We’ve been in Branford since 2014 when the medical program started. We’re hoping our reputation continues into adult use.”

A kiosk for ordering photographed at the medical marijuana dispensary Bluepoint Wellness in Branford on January 5, 2023 which will change the business name to Rise and incorporate adult use recreational pot sales on January 10, 2023.

A kiosk for ordering photographed at the medical marijuana dispensary Bluepoint Wellness in Branford on January 5, 2023 which will change the business name to Rise and incorporate adult use recreational pot sales on January 10, 2023.

Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

What to expect

Customers will have to show a government ID to prove they are 21 or older to purchase recreational marijuana. Stores will accept cash or debit cards. There will be separate lines and kiosks for medical and recreational customers and separate menus to order from. Medical patients can order off the recreational menu but recreational customers can’t purchase products from the medical menu.

Medical marijuana patients can purchase higher quantities of cannabis – five ounces per month as opposed to 1/4 ounce of cannabis flower per transaction for recreational customers– and have access to higher potency products. Marr said RISE is planning to increase delivery for medical marijuana patients from one day to three days – another option to help them avoid potential long lines and traffic.

Total taxes for recreational marijuana sales will be around 20 percent – consistent with other states – including the state’s 6.35 percent sales tax, a 3 percent local tax that goes to the city or town where the sale occurs, and a tax based on the THC content in the product, ranging from 10 to 15 percent of the total sale price. THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive substance that produces the “high” associated with consuming cannabis. Products purchased through the medical marijuana program are not subject to sales or other taxes because medication is nontaxable.

General Manager and Licensed Pharmacist Patty Marr talks about the transition for medical marijuana dispensary Bluepoint Wellness in Branford incorporating adult use recreational pot sales on January 10, 2023 and changing the name of the business to Rise.

General Manager and Licensed Pharmacist Patty Marr talks about the transition for medical marijuana dispensary Bluepoint Wellness in Branford incorporating adult use recreational pot sales on January 10, 2023 and changing the name of the business to Rise.

Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

Bucchieri advised customers to check the dispensaries’ websites, which will be updated regularly, to see what products are available or if a particular product has sold out. He said Zen Leaf will allow customers to place pre-orders online starting on day one. He expects cannabis flower, vape cartridges, and marijuana edibles will be available for purchase in the initial days of sales.

The state’s four existing medical marijuana producers – Advanced Grow Labs, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions, Curaleaf and Theraplant – will supply the recreational market with more growers expected to become operational over time as they complete the licensure process. Businesses have 14 months from the time they receive a provisional license to complete the necessary steps to get a final license and operate in the adult-use market. 

The seven dispensaries that are expected to be open on the first day of adult use sales are:

  • Affinity, New Haven
  • RISE, formerly known as Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut, Branford
  • Fine Fettle Dispensary, Newington
  • Fine Fettle Dispensary, Stamford
  • Fine Fettle Dispensary, Willimantic
  • The Botanist, Montville
  • Zen Leaf, formerly known as Willow Brook Wellness, Meriden

Still River Wellness in Torrington and The Botanist’s store in Danbury will offer adult-use sales later in 2023. Both will continue to serve medical patients in the meantime. Silver River Wellness anticipates starting recreational sales on Feb. 1. The Botanist has not set a date for its Danbury store but has said adult-use sales will start sometime this year.

The dispensaries have spent recent weeks and months preparing – hiring more staff, expanding their stores, installing kiosks where customers will place orders, and adding more parking spaces and areas to store inventory. The opening of the first legal pot shops will be historic but it will also give the businesses an edge in the burgeoning market.

Items for sale in a display case at the medical marijuana dispensary Bluepoint Wellness in Branford photographed on January 5, 2023. Bluepoint Wellness will change the business name to Rise and incorporate adult use recreational pot sales on January 10, 2023.

Items for sale in a display case at the medical marijuana dispensary Bluepoint Wellness in Branford photographed on January 5, 2023. Bluepoint Wellness will change the business name to Rise and incorporate adult use recreational pot sales on January 10, 2023.

Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

“It’s a huge advantage. This is where we solidify our recreational customer base. First impressions count, right?” Bucchieri said. “In terms of customer retention, building a trust and getting them to be loyal customers, and also in terms of the revenue to be quite honest, because people want to buy the product, they want to spend their money on this stuff.”

That’s created concern among new cannabis business owners, particularly social equity applicants, who were disproportionately impacted by past cannabis prohibition and whom the law intended to offer opportunities to enter the legal market by giving preference in licensing process.

One of those applicants is Kebra Smith-Bolden, of New Haven, who was among those who sued the state over denying her social equity status. She prevailed and received approval for a cultivation and a retail license in partnership with Acreage Holdings, Inc., a Canadian-based cannabis company.

 “If social equity is really at the forefront of this entire cannabis program here in the state of Connecticut, then why would you do something that totally disadvantages social equity retail business owners, by giving the already established, already advantaged medical providers and players a head start when first movers are the ones who are able to be successful,” she said.

Smith-Bolden said she wished the state started recreational sales later in the year to provide a more even playing field for new business owners such as herself. She is in negotiations for a property in New Haven to serve as her retail location and has several other approvals to complete. She hopes to open her dispensary by mid-summer – “and even that is hopeful,” she said.

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