On Wednesday, Steve Berke ’03, Kevin Park ’00, Adam Mutchler ’02 and Gabe Goldstein ’02 will launch Bang Holdings, a digital media company providing content and an influencer-based marketing network to the legal marijuana industry.

Berke, the company’s chief executive officer and founder, said Bang fills the void created by the restrictive policies of platforms such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, which do not allow cannabis companies to advertise on their sites. He said Bang aims at targeting producers seeking to become the Coca-Cola or Marlboro of the marijuana industry in states in which recreational cannabis is legal.

Berke said Bang will not target Connecticut for the time being, due to the state’s relatively strict marijuana policies. While medical marijuana was legalized by the state in 2011, it is still illegal to sell marijuana for recreational purposes.

“Our multi-channel, multi-platform advertising network directly engages around 500,000 marijuana enthusiasts on a daily basis, while Bang’s social influencer network expands our company’s potential reach to 11 million more customers,” Berke said in a statement to the News. “We are growing at an accelerated pace, and our expertise in the cannabis industry is second to none.”

A tennis player at Yale, Berke said he looked down upon recreational marijuana users during college. After a post-graduation injury left him unable to play tennis professionally, however, Berke was offered the opportunity to appear on a reality television show, The Rebel Billionaire — an entrepreneurial competition featuring Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson — while he was in rehabilitation for his injury. While Berke did not win the competition, Berke said Branson introduced him to cannabis, which offered Berke pain relief and eliminated his negative perception of marijuana.

Despite Connecticut’s policy against recreational marijuana use, some members of the Connecticut General Assembly are pushing for the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana in the state, which they argue will eliminate the black market sale of marijuana and simultaneously stimulate the state’s economy. In February 2016, Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, and nine co-signees introduced House Bill 5236, which would have allowed all adults in the state to purchase marijuana for recreation legally. But the bill failed in early March when it failed to garner sufficient legislative support for a public hearing this year. 

Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, was one of the bill’s signatories. He said despite the bill’s failure to move to a public hearing, the issue has a tremendous amount of public support. Albis said the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut would make the state a more competitive market because it would increase tourism and migration to the state. A number of neighboring states, such as Vermont and Massachusetts, are seriously considering cannabis legalization, Albis said.

“We’ve been so far behind on a lot of economic issues,” Albis said. “This is an area where we could actually get ahead of our neighboring states and gain a competitive edge.”

Albis added that the bill proposed tax revenue from marijuana sales in Connecticut fund substance abuse services, which would help combat the growing opioid epidemic plaguing the state.

Connecticut’s medical marijuana industry is currently growing, following the January approval of three new dispensaries in New Haven county by the state’s Department of Consumer Protection.

DCP Director of Communications Lora Anderson said the three new dispensaries should be operating by the summer of 2016. She said 9,897 medical marijuana patients live across the state, with 2,657 of these patients residing in New Haven county.

Anderson said the DCP does not support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. But, she said, medical dispensaries improve the lives of state residents with one of 17 qualifying medical conditions — including cancer, sickle cell disease and epilepsy. Anderson added that the DCP is working to expand the medical industry so that children with such conditions can access medical marijuana.

“Right now we prefer that marijuana stay being used for medical purposes, but we are happy that the program is growing and that the stigma of medical marijuana patients is improving,” Anderson said.

Two of the new medical dispensaries are opening in Milford — a 10-minute drive from downtown New Haven.