CT cannabis businesses spent millions on lobbying before legalization

CT cannabis businesses spent millions on lobbying before legalization

Medical cannabis growers and retailers in Connecticut spent millions on lobbying in the years before recreational cannabis sales began, data shows. 

Theraplant, for example, one of four medical cannabis cultivators now also growing cannabis for recreational use, spent $337,213.45 between 2019 and 2020. According to a Hearst Connecticut Media review of lobbyist filings. The company spent $320,974.35 in 2021 and 2022. 

New York-headquartered High Street Capital Partners, later renamed Acreage Holdings, which owns three medical cannabis dispensaries in Connecticut, spent $136,096.25 on lobbyists in 2019 and 2020, increasing that investment to $210,541.28 in 2021 and 2022. 

Trulieve, which owns a dispensary in Bristol, spent $158,990.80 on lobbyists in 2021 and 2022. Only Trulieve and Theraplant have so far filed paperwork indicating lobbyist activity in relation to cannabis in 2023 and 2024 filings. 

Other medical cannabis cultivators and retailers which spent thousands on lobbying before recreational sales began include Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions and Arrow Alternative Care, both of which were bought by large, out-of-state cannabis operators. 

Verano Holdings, which bought Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions, and Curaleaf, which bought Arrow Alternative Care, are two of only four cultivators currently producing cannabis for Connecticut’s recreational market. 

“The biggest lobbying success, I would argue, has been that the producers got to keep themselves at four for a long time,” said Ben Zachs, chief operating officer of Fine Fettle, which operates several Connecticut dispensaries. “I don’t know if that’s because of lobbying. I don’t know if that’s because they, by and large, did a pretty good job operating.”

In all, companies which specified only “cannabis” or “marijuana” in their filings spent $852,470.25 in 2019 and 2021, and $956,365.28 in 2021 and 2022.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill on June 22, 2021 making use of cannabis for recreational purposes legal in Connecticut. The first recreational dispensaries opened to the public on Jan. 10, 2023. 

“It is very clear that the role of money in lobbying shapes every single detail of the program,” said Jason Ortiz, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and past president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

In particular, Ortiz pointed to a provision in the law that allows existing medical cannabis cultivators to pay half the $3 million filing fee if they partner with a social equity partner. 

“It’s 100 percent clear that the folks on the top floor of the bigger businesses within Connecticut wanted to create those programs to circumvent the regular equity process and create a lane where they get to own the equity businesses,” he said. “That is 100 percent clearly done by lobbyists.”

DeVaughan Ward, a Connecticut native, is senior legislative counsel at D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which he said has “played a role in writing most of the cannabis policy in the United States from medical to adult use cannabis policy.”

MPP spent $81,788.72 on lobbyist activity in 2019 and 2021 in Connecticut

Ward had been a registered lobbyist in Connecticut working on behalf of MPP, and said, “we helped developing parts of the bill, for sure.”

Ward did say “I didn’t craft the entire thing,” and noted that there were parts of the law of which he was not in favor. 

“Are there things in the bill that I wasn’t thrilled about? Sure. So when I say I lobbied on the bill, I helped craft parts of the bill. Absolutely,” he said. “But it was not me single-handedly deciding what made it in.”

When asked about the $3 million fees criticized by Ortiz, Ward said he “flatly told lawmakers, I’ve told applicants, that those licenses aren’t worth $3 million dollars today. Which means they’re likely not going to be worth $3 million in a year from now or five years from now.” 

“That $3 million is not correlated to any economic or market dynamic,” he said. “It’s a number that some lawmaker who is not very knowledgeable on cannabis policy and some other lobbyist picked out of the sky and said, ‘That’s the number.’”

Lobbying, Ward said, plays a role in crafting much of the legislation that gets passed in Connecticut, other states and at the federal level: “Lobbyists play a big role in crafting every single piece of legislation in every state house in the country. I don’t think that’s a story that’s unique to cannabis.”

The more complex an issue is, the more areas of law and society are affected, the more lobbyists will be involved, he said.

“Cannabis is an issue that touches public safety, economic development, criminal justice,” Ward said. “It’s a really broad swath of interests that come to play when you’re talking about cannabis legalization.”

Ward has also lobbied in favor of cannabis and helped craft cannabis legislation in other states, among them New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Hawaii. Lobbying in Connecticut was different, Ward said, because being a native, “I know the lawmakers, I know the clerks and I know the advocates.”

Though he said there are aspects of the bill that could be “tweaked,” Ward expressed pride in the law as it was signed. 

“You’ve got to look at Connecticut’s bill for when it was crafted. It was crafted in 2021. At the time, it was a state-of-the-industry bill. There was not a single policy feature in the cannabis space that was not included in that bill,” he said. “I stand by my work on it.I’m very proud of my work on it, and I’m very proud that Connecticut passed it.”

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