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May 19, 2022

New Haven cannabis entrepreneur Smith-Bolden eyes recreational market expansion with social equity partnership

Acreage Holdings, a multistate cannabis operator and cultivator with three medical dispensaries in the state, announced this week it’s launching a social equity partnership in greater New Haven.
The company said, pending approval from the Social Equity Council, it’s planning to establish a retail and cultivation social equity partnership with Kebra Smith-Bolden, founder of CannaHealth.
CannaHealth, with six locations in the state, offers certification and recertification services for Connecticut residents that qualify for the medical cannabis program. The company, which was founded in New Haven in 2017, touts itself as the first Black-owned cannabis business in the state. Since its founding it has certified thousands of medical cannabis patients.

Smith-Bolden said she’s already submitted plans to the state for a disproportionately-impacted area cultivator license and plans to submit a retail application. Both will be business partnerships with Acreage, she said.

The partners’ exact plans aren’t entirely clear, including specific locations for where they intend to open their prospective cannabis businesses, but Smith-Bolden told the Hartford Business Journal her goal is to operate both facilities in New Haven.

“I am from New Haven so my desire is that both of our operations are in the city of New Haven,” Smith-Bolden said.

There are difficulties with that, though, Smith-Bolden acknowledged. Disproportionately-impacted area cultivators have to be in specific zones, which are often residential, so finding qualifying properties is a challenge. Further, New Haven city officials haven’t been fully welcoming to the new industry so far, she said.

“I have to be honest, the city of New Haven has not been as receptive and responsive as I think they should be, being that they would benefit significantly from the tax revenue,” Smith-Bolden said. “I’m a little disappointed in the current administration and how they’re handling things — it would be so unfortunate if I had to take the businesses outside of New Haven because I wanted to create jobs and opportunities in New Haven.”

Acreage Holdings, a New York-based multistate operator, owns three dispensaries in the state: The Botanist Montville, previously known as Thames Valley Relief; The Botanist Danbury, formerly known as Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut; and Prime Wellness of Connecticut in South Windsor. The company announced last year it would be renaming all three dispensaries under its “The Botanist” brand.

The company began its operations in the state when it bought Prime Wellness of Connecticut and Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut in 2018. The next year it purchased Thames Valley Relief.

Smith-Bolden said she’d been approached by other multistate operators about the potential for a partnership and did her research on her options.

“My ultimate goal was to have a vertical operation here, and the only way to do that is to partner with someone who already had dispensaries here but didn’t have cultivation,” Smith-Bolden said.

After meeting the Acreage team, she said she learned that their goals and values aligned with hers. Smith-Bolden is also a marijuana industry advocate who has served in various leadership roles at Women Grow, the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, Connecticut NORML, Minority Cannabis Business Association and National Cannabis Industry Association. She’s also a member of the New Haven County Juvenile Review Board.

“Because of my role as an advocate and a trusted community servant, I could be effective in helping them be better at corporate social responsibility and working in the communities in which they serve,” Smith-Bolden said.

She’s also a registered nurse with more than 20 years in the healthcare field.

In addition to six locations in Connecticut, CannaHealth also has offices in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

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