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July 8, 2024

First cannabis transport company earns final license approval; plans to be logistics ‘hub’ for industry newcomers and veterans

HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER (From left) Sol Santiago, Justin Frytz and Angie Frytz stand in front of their Ford Transit cargo van that they’ll use for their cannabis transporter business, The White Oak Bridge.
Click below for more information about The White Oak Bridge.
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Connecticut’s cannabis industry has experienced a number of firsts in recent years, with the launch of the adult-use market in 2023.

Now, the state could soon see its first cannabis product transport company come online.

East Hartford-based The White Oak Bridge has become the first company to earn final license approval for a product transport business, as it seeks to be a logistics expert for the state’s legal marijuana industry.

The company, owned by North Haven-based married couple Justin and Angerlyk (Angie) Frytz and New Haven resident Sol Santiago, has already purchased its first Ford Transit cargo van and is connecting with cannabis cultivators and product manufacturers for business opportunities.

White Oak also holds a cannabis product-packager license, which will allow it to offer a full suite of business-to-business logistics services that include warehousing and distribution. It’s also working on a wholesale license to distribute hemp and THC beverages to liquor stores.

The company said it hopes to streamline the supply chain for cannabis cultivators, producers, manufacturers and retailers.

Angie Frytz has been a key player in making sure the product-packager license is a viable business model in the state. She, along with other industry hopefuls, successfully lobbied the legislature earlier this year to expand a packager license’s capabilities to include certain product manufacturing, such as cannabis extractions, chemical synthesis and other activities.

“When you’re launching a new industry, it takes time for everybody to learn — from legislators to regulators to business operators,” Angie Frytz said. “We’re all stakeholders on this issue, and we all have to be willing to listen to the other party because there are things that we’re not going to be able to see from the legislative side, regulator side and vice versa, so it’s not easy, it’s a marathon.”

White Oak Bridge is unique in another way. It actually purchased its transporter license from another company, NMB BPT LLC, which originally won it via the general lottery in 2022. NMB’s principals — Bridgeport resident Amir Isufi and New York residents Enkelejd Isufi and Agron Gjyriqi — didn’t have interest in moving forward with the license, so they decided to put it up for sale, Justin Frytz said.

White Oak declined to disclose the sales price, but its strategy is to hold several licenses so it can be vertically integrated and provide a full spectrum of logistics services, Justin Frytz said.

Strategic licenses

Angie Frytz, who is a licensed doctor and works in the clinical research industry, said pursuing a cultivation license was the group’s original plan, but the $3 million entrance fee was a barrier to entry, so the partners shifted their focus. Her husband comes from the real estate industry with a previous retail-management background, while Santiago has a sales and marketing background and owns SOLÉI Beauty and Body Spa in Woodbridge.

White Oak initially won its product-packager license via the social equity lottery in 2022, and is closing in on the purchase of an East Hartford warehouse, where it will base its operations.

“The packaging license, in all honesty, was the one that didn’t have that many applications, so I did some math, and we had better odds to get a packaging license than a number of other licenses,” Angie Frytz said, adding that the group also applied unsuccessfully for food and beverage and manufacturer licenses. “We tried to be very strategic.”

Of the approximately 37,000 social equity or general lottery applications received for state cannabis industry licenses, only 489, or 1.3% were for a transporter license, according to data from the state Department of Consumer Protection. Only the product-packager license received fewer applications, at 462. There are currently eight license types available in the adult-use cannabis industry, and the state has conducted only one lottery round since the industry’s launch.

Angie Frytz said the packaging license was initially limited in its scope, but now that the legislature has expanded its capabilities, the company plans to outfit its future East Hartford warehouse with manufacturing equipment.

“The packaging license, as it stood at that time, the only thing that you could do essentially was to apply a label to a packaged product,” she said. “So, we started talking to the General Law Committee to make them understand ‘hey, this is a difficulty that all packagers have,’ and this is a legislative issue, not a regulatory issue. So, that’s why we’ve been advocating for those changes for the past two years, and we got them.”

Business potential

Justin Frytz said White Oak’s main customer base will likely be new companies entering Connecticut’s cannabis market. Existing growers, mostly made up of companies that have been operating in the state since the 2014 launch of the medical marijuana industry, already have most of their logistics set up, so connecting with new startups is crucial, he said.

“Our goal is really to get in front of all the other new licensees that haven’t gotten to active status yet because now they can see that we’re an option for them for support services and they won’t have to worry about logistics,” Justin Frytz said.

In addition to traditional marijuana product distribution and warehousing, the company sees huge potential in cannabis and hemp beverages. They’re currently working to obtain the necessary wholesale license to distribute these drinks to liquor stores, which are permitted to sell cannabis and hemp beverages thanks to legislative changes passed earlier this year.

“It is a trend that will continue to grow because the number of people who are looking for alcohol alternatives and ‘mocktails’ is going up. THC beverages are filling that space,” Justin Frytz said. “This way, no matter what business we’re using our vehicles for, they’re continuously out on the road and operational, whether it’s the hemp beverage distribution or adult-use cannabis transportation. So, it allows us to be a lot more operationally efficient and generate more revenue for our business.”

Future legislative changes

White Oak Bridge’s founders will be handling all deliveries before ultimately hiring drivers as business ramps up. Once fully operational, the company expects to have between 20 and 30 employees, Justin Frytz said.

And its work lobbying lawmakers isn’t done. Angie Frytz said she will be back at the legislature next session to push for changes that would consolidate into one license transporter and warehousing and storage services.

It’s too cumbersome to operate under different licenses, she said. Connecticut’s cannabis transporter license requires same-day service, meaning products must be picked up and delivered to their final destination within the same day.

“Ideally, we’d be able to go to ‘manufacturer A,’ pick up their 40 orders for the week, and then go down the street to ‘manufacturer B,’ do the same thing, and bring it all back to our facility, consolidate it with other orders going to the same retail establishments and put them back out with another route,” Justin Frytz said. “In any other industry, that’s how logistics work.”

Santiago said he expects further changes in the cannabis industry as the sector and market conditions continue to evolve.

“We’ll have to continue to learn more and more as it changes — adapt or die,” Santiago said.

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