MONTVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s first round of recreational cannabis sales for adults 21 and older kicked off Tuesday at seven existing medical marijuana establishments across the state, less than two years after Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation making Connecticut the latest state to legalize retail sales.
By the end of the day, state regulators reported more than $250,000 in sales generated during the first seven hours.
“We have had no reported issues at any of our retailers, and we are proud of the successful launch of the regulated adult-use market,” Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull said in a statement.
While dozens of people waited in lines outside some dispensaries Tuesday morning to be the first customers, there wasn’t the huge crush of patrons seen in some states during the early days of legalized marijuana. At some dispensaries, patrons were urged to place orders online and pick them up at a certain time.
As many as 40 dispensaries, along with dozens of other cannabis-related businesses, are expected to eventually open in Connecticut by the end of this year.
Samuel Gabbey, a 32-year-old package delivery operations manager from Mansfield, was among the patrons who lined up Tuesday morning to be one of the first customers at the Fine Fettle Dispensary in Willimantic. He said he’s been waiting years for legalization in Connecticut and believes it’s better for people to buy from a legitimate shop with regulated product instead of buying marijuana from strangers.
“The day finally came where we can all just come here and get what we want and go home without having to worry about the police or anything,” he said. “So it’s a good day for people in Connecticut.”
Besides creating a regulated, safer product, Lamont, a Democrat, noted how the state’s legalization law also allows convictions for low-level marijuana crimes to be erased, many automatically. Nearly 44,000 such convictions have been erased since the start of the new year, officials said.
“Today marks a turning point in the injustices caused by the war on drugs, most notably now that there is a legal alternative to the dangerous, unregulated, underground market for cannabis sales,” Lamont said in a statement.
Recreational sales were allowed to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. State-approved shops in Branford, Meriden, Montville, New Haven, Newington, Stamford and Willimantic were expected to open their doors to the general public on the first day. Two other approved dispensaries, in Danbury and Torrington, are expected to open at a later date.
In Montville, local state lawmakers and the mayor turned out for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Botanist dispensary. Patrons received free T-shirts and coffee mugs, as well as personal assistance with making their selections.
Lynn Goldstein, 60, of Norwich, was the first recreational marijuana customer to make a purchase at The Botanist. While she didn’t intend on being the first in line and have her nearly $106 purchase documented by reporters, she was happy that she was. Goldstein was given a bag of goodies, including a $250 vaporizer.
Goldstein said she has suffered with chronic pain since 2011 and has been a medical marijuana customer. While it doesn’t take away all of her pain, she says cannabis can be a big help to her and other people with health issues.
“It makes me relaxed and sometimes sleepy and I just enjoy being a little pain free,” said Goldstein. But she had some concerns with legalization.
“I do worry about the young people because they don’t know how to handle it and they will be driving stoned, and it’s going to be very hard for police to figure out what’s what,” she said.
Twenty-one states have legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the past decade, even though it remains illegal under federal law. Since voters approved legalization in Maryland and Missouri in November, marijuana advocates have pressed forward with similar efforts elsewhere in the U.S., including in Ohio and Oklahoma.
As of Feb. 3, 2022, 37 states, three territories and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The list includes Connecticut’s three neighbors, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.
Kate Nelson, senior vice president of the Midwest and Northwest regions for Acreage Holdings, which owns The Botanist brand, said the Montville location sees about 200 to 300 medical marijuana customers daily. She predicted there will be a 150% uptick in sales during the first week of recreational sales, but acknowledged that will likely level off.
A second location owned by the company in Connecticut, located in Danbury, is expected to open in the coming weeks after local approvals are finalized.
“I think even before the 40 operators come online, you’ll start to see less of that excitement of something new and more so of kind of what the status quo will become,” Nelson said. “We’re in an area now in the country where there’s other adult-use states nearby. So it’s really going to be a focus of ours, in the state of Connecticut specifically, to make sure that this adult-use program has the product that it needs to have and we can support the industry … to make sure Connecticut sets themselves apart from other competing markets.”
Initial sales in Connecticut will be limited to one-quarter of an ounce (7 grams) of cannabis flower or its equivalent, in an effort to ensure there will be enough supply for medical marijuana patients. Different items can be purchased together to make up the one-quarter ounce. The state’s Department of Consumer Protection plans to watch retail sales and manufacturing supplies closely to determine when that amount can eventually be increased.
In addition the purchase price, customers must pay the state’s existing 6.35% sales tax; a 3% sales tax that benefits the host community; and a state tax based on the THC content, which ranges from approximately 10% to 15% of the sale price.
Associated Press writer Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.