FAQ: What to know about recreational cannabis dispensaries in Connecticut

Photo of Andrew DaRosa
A customer from Connecticut buys marijuana supplies at the Weed World store on March 31, 2021, in New York.

A customer from Connecticut buys marijuana supplies at the Weed World store on March 31, 2021, in New York.

Kena Betancur / Getty Images

With the legalization of recreational cannabis last July, there is one thing on many Connecticut residents' minds: when will the state see the opening of its first recreational dispensaries?

While medical dispensaries are sprinkled throughout the state, Connecticut residents will have to wait a little longer for recreational facilities to open in the state.

From dispensary offerings and cannabinoid breakdowns to the application process and the state's Social Equity Council, here is what you need to know about dispensaries in Connecticut.

What is a dispensary?

A dispensary is a store that legally sells adult-use cannabis products. Typically, these products are age-restricted and proper ID is needed to purchase cannabis products from a dispensary. Think of a pharmacy meets a liquor store.  

When are recreational dispensaries opening in Connecticut?

Though medical dispensaries have been operating in Connecticut since 2014, recreational dispensaries are not yet open. Cannabis establishment applications opened on Feb. 3, however, some Connecticut towns have implemented moratoriums on accepting and approving applications. 

The state has not revealed an exact date for the opening of recreational dispensaries in Connecticut. The Department of Consumer Protection details that "adult-use cannabis retail sales are anticipated to begin in the state by the end of 2022."

Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill just after noon on Tuesday making recreational marijuana legal for adults in Connecticut starting July 1. From left are proponents Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven; Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport; House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford; Lamont; Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz; and Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill just after noon on Tuesday making recreational marijuana legal for adults in Connecticut starting July 1. From left are proponents Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven; Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport; House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford; Lamont; Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz; and Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

Julia Bergman / Hearst Connecticut Media

Where can I get cannabis since recreational dispensaries aren't open in Connecticut yet?

There are a number of recreational dispensaries around the Connecticut border, mainly in Massachusetts.

However, it should be noted that because cannabis has not been legalized on a national level, it is illegal to bring it over the state line, according to the Cannabis Control Commission of Massachusetts. You also cannot mail cannabis from Massachusetts to Connecticut.

If you choose to consume cannabis in Massachusetts, there are a number of laws as to where you are legally allowed to do so.

How is a medical dispensary different than a recreational dispensary?

Medical dispensaries are used by patients who require cannabis products for a medicinal use. The Department of Consumer Protection issues medical marijuana cards that are distributed based on a list of "qualifying conditions," which includes cancer, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy among a number of other conditions. In order to get a medical marijuana card, you must first speak to your doctor to see if you qualify. A $100 fee is required to be paid to the DCP upon initially receiving your card as well as $100 annually to renew your card. A recertification appointment is also needed with your doctor in order to qualify annually for you card.

Some of the benefits of going to a medical dispensary include access to products with high THC levels, no taxes, product protection from shortages and access to regulated cannabis before the opening of recreational dispensaries. 

There are 17 registered medical dispensaries located in Connecticut. They can be located here.

Packaged medical marijuana at Advanced Grow Labs in West Haven. 

Packaged medical marijuana at Advanced Grow Labs in West Haven. 

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

What kind of products will be sold at recreational dispensaries?

While menus will differ between different dispensaries, it is safe to assume that most dispensaries will have THC and CBD products in a variety of forms including pre-rolls, edibles and vape cartridges. Individual flowers and concentrates will most likely be available as well. Similar to our neighbors to north, Massachusetts, dispensaries will most likely boast a number of cannabis-related accoutrements such as rolling paper, pipes and grinders. 

What is the difference between THC and CBD?

There are two main cannabinoids (group of substances found in the plant) — THC and CBD.

THC is often regarded as the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, according to a study published with the National Library of Medicine. It enters your bloodstream and travels to your brain, where it attaches to endocannabinoid receptors in the parts of your brain that control thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and movement. This is what creates the "high" feeling when consuming THC products, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Dispensaries are required to list the THC percentage on all products containing THC. Connecticut’s law caps THC percentages in flower at 30 percent — a limit routinely exceeded by medical-grade cannabis.

CBD is the other main cannabinoid. While THC is the substance most often associated with dispensaries, CBD products are sometimes sold in dispensaries as well. CBD usually comes from hemp, a form of cannabis that has very minimal levels of THC.

However, it is not often associated with getting people "high," rather, has been claimed to treat seizure disorder, Parkinson disease, Crohn disease, anxiety and other ailments, according to the National Library of Medicine. While it has been known to treat those diseases, CBD are products are not regulated and not guaranteed to treat ailments.

In addition, CBD-based products can be purchased outside of dispensaries, and can found in a number of stores and online shops. There are even CBD cafes in Connecticut.

A cannibis plant that is close to harvest grows in a grow room at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond, Va., Thursday, June 17, 2021. 

A cannibis plant that is close to harvest grows in a grow room at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond, Va., Thursday, June 17, 2021. 

Steve Helber / Associated Press

What are the different types of applications available for cannabis establishments?

Connecticut offers 14 different types of applications under five umbrella categories — growing, manufacturing, sales, delivery and transportation and individual licenses and registrations. A breakdown of all 14 licenses can be viewed here.

What is the Social Equity Council? How is the state addressing "Disproportionately Impacted Areas"?

The Social Equity Council was developed by the state in order to ensure that products from the adult-use cannabis program are "grown equitably" and that funds from the program are brought back to the areas hit the hardest by the "war on drugs," according to the state's website.

The state identified a number of areas throughout Connecticut that qualify as "Disproportionately Impacted Areas" in 2021, which are areas that have a "historical conviction rate for drug-related offenses greater than one-tenth, or an unemployment rate greater than ten percent." The passed bill, Public Act 21-1, aims to encourage the participation of the cannabis industry in these areas.

The state has also started taking applications for Equity Joint Ventures, which are business entities that partner with a producer or dispensary, and are at least 50 percent owned by individuals who:

  • Had an income of three times less that the state median household income over the last three tax years AND EITHER
  • Were a resident in a "Disproportionately Impacted Area" for five of the last 10 years OR
  • Were a resident in a "Disproportionately Impacted Area" for at least nine years before turning 18.

According to the state, Equity Joint Ventures are not subject to the lottery and must be approved by the Social Equity Council before being granted a provisional license.

There are also Social Equity Partners, which are business entities that must be at least 65 percent owned by individuals who fall under the same social equity prerequisites as the Equity Joint Ventures. Social Equity Partners also are not subject to the lottery and have the ability to join an Equity Joint Venture in order "to provide them grow space, mentorship and overhead costs, in exchange for a reduction in the cost of the expansion process."

What does the application process entail?

There will be two different lottery processes: a social equity lottery and a general lottery.

At least half of the applications will be awarded to the social equity lottery. The prerequisites for that lottery are the same as the Equity Joint Ventures. The Department of Consumer Protection will notify a third-party lottery operator of the social equity applicants and after that, the first lottery commences. 

The lottery operator provides the DCP with numerical rankings for each applicant, by which time the Social Equity Council will go through each chosen application to ensure that they are indeed a social equity applicant.

After the social equity applications have been chosen, a second lottery will be conducted for the general lottery, which includes non-social equity applications, social equity applications that were not chosen in the first round and applicants chosen during the first round that were not classified as social equity applicants. 

Additional reporting by Mark Prokop.