Many 'social equity' applicants priced out of cannabis store licenses
Connecticut will soon give out the first licenses for retail marijuana dispensaries, but many applicants say big money is pricing them out of the process.
Aprelle Mintz is one of them. She grew up in Bridgeport and wants to invest in her hometown.
"When you come down this side of Fairfield Avenue, it's like the businesses stop," she said.
Mintz, along with partners Jason Freeman and Anthony Robustelli, want to re-paint the picture of poverty in the Park City.
"We want to open a cannabis retail shop," she said.
The three formed AJAM, LLC. But first, they need a cannabis retail license, and that's a problem.
"It's very competitive, to say the least," said Freeman.
How competitive? The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection received 8,360 applications for just six social equity licenses. Those licenses are set aside for people with ties to distressed communities, with strict income and residency requirements. The law requires a social equity applicant to own at least 65% of the business.
So why did so many applications come in? Entrants can submit as many times as they can afford. Just like Powerball, the more tickets you buy, the better your odds of winning. Some social equity ventures partnered with wealthy, out-of-state backers to submit dozens – even hundreds – of applications.
"This was not intended, but there was this loophole created," said Andrea Comer, the chair of Connecticut's Social Equity Council. "I am hopeful that the legislators will address that loophole going forward. But that said, this genie is already out of the bottle."
Applications cost $250 dollars each. AJAM could only afford 10 of them.
"I've known people who took their savings just to do this whole process," said Mintz. "They went broke thinking that they really had a chance, you know? And that's how it was portrayed. That's how it was given to us."
DCP randomly selected the six applications earlier this week. Now the Social Equity Council must vet their paperwork before announcing the winners.
"We don't want any social equity applicant to be a front for a larger company," said Comer. "I'm hopeful that some of those multi-state operators, or all of them, are entering into this state with the same goal in mind, which is equity."
If AJAM doesn't get one of the six social equity slots, they'll be automatically added to the traditional lottery. But those are long odds too. Connecticut is only awarding six licenses to non-equity ventures, and more than 7,000 applicants are already in the pool.
There will be more chances. DCP plans to hold multiple rounds of retail lotteries, depending on market factors and cannabis supply. But entrants like AJAM will have to pay the $250 per application fee all over again.
Still, just like her hometown, Mintz hopes to beat the odds.
"Our downtown is one block long. Everything closes at 8 at night," she said. "We can make it live again and happening."