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December 8, 2021

Social Equity Council approves criteria for legal cannabis businesses; application process still not ready

Skyler Frazer | Hartford Business Journal A woman holds up a sign that says "fee waivers" during the Social Equity Council's meeting Dec. 7. During the meeting the council discussed what financial assistance programs could be available to those hoping to open cannabis establishments in the state.

The cannabis industry’s Social Equity Council on Tuesday approved key final criteria for establishing recreational marijuana businesses in the state, but a few more steps must be taken before the application process can officially begin, officials said.

At its final scheduled meeting of the year, the SEC approved ownership and control requirements, social equity plan criteria, and workforce development requirements for those hoping to start cannabis-related businesses in the state following adult-use recreational legalization earlier this year.

While the council approved those measures, it didn’t officially begin the application process as it was expected to do: through a series of amendments and motions, council members voted to hold a special meeting to iron out details related to financial technical assistance programs for those who plan to submit social equity applications.

“The application window will not be triggered until the point at which we have our special meeting to approve the technical assistance accelerator program,” SEC Chair Andrea Comer said during the meeting.

It wasn’t immediately clear when that meeting would take place.

Further, the council voted that their approvals for income and residency documentation requirements for social equity applicants were contingent on the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) extending the 60-day window for application submissions to 90 days.

Had the SEC not included those contingencies, DCP would have begun accepting applications from both social equity and general businesses within the next 30 days. Those prospective businesses then would have had just 60 days to submit their applications.

Comer, who is also the deputy commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, called the state’s recent cannabis legalization legislation “an ambitious, yet imperfect, product,” during the meeting.

“Today’s vote by the Council is an important step towards ensuring equity in the cannabis market,” Comer said in a statement after the meeting. “Now that the criteria are approved, we can focus our efforts to ensure the impacted communities have the information and support they need.”

In terms of outreach, Social Equity Council Executive Director Ginne-Rae Clay said there will be symposiums and stakeholder discussions scheduled over the next few months for those hoping to get involved in the industry. The SEC website will continue to be updated with helpful information for prospective applicants, Clay said.

Her team will also build out a checklist to be used by prospective applicants to keep track of what documents they need or already have.

“It’s to ensure that social equity applicants understand the process and have access to the cannabis industry,” Clay said of outreach efforts.

Council member Michael Jefferson suggested that the SEC create additional committees, possibly related to technical assistance or quality control, as the process moves forward. Comer tasked the SEC’s governance committee with exploring the idea.

Eventually, the DCP will start accepting cannabis business license applications for nine different license categories and oversee a lottery process to determine which applicants it will consider. Council members will rule on whether applicants qualify for social equity status. General applicants also need the council to approve their social equity and workforce development plans.

“This Council has put in a great deal of work over the past few months researching best practices and listening to the community to create fair and equitable criteria and requirements. These criteria are intended to support and encourage the participation of social equity applicants in the adult-use cannabis market,” Clay said. “The vote today also signifies new career paths in and outside the cannabis market. Now it’s time to educate the public and help social equity applicants plan for success.”

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