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Connecticut’s medical marijuana industry’s rapid expansion has attracted out-of-state investors who are looking to meet the increasing demand for medical marijuana treatment throughout the state.

Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based company that cultivates, processes and dispenses marijuana, has recently acquired West Haven-based Advanced Grow Labs in an $80 million deal — pending regulatory approvals.

David Lipton, founder and CEO of Advanced Grow Labs, said that his company’s recent partnership with Green Thumb will allow them to better provide cannabis pharmaceutical care to patients across the state. Lipton said that the acquisition of Advanced Grow Labs will likely close within the next few months.

“[Green Thumb] shares our vision of putting patients first and to be dedicated to providing welfare and fine cannabis products,” Lipton said in an interview with the News. “We think this partnership is going to be great for us and for the patients in Connecticut.”

Since the state legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2012, medical marijuana programs have rapidly expanded. The state now hosts eighteen approved dispensaries, which provide care for over 30,000 patients with 31 conditions.

According to Jessica Pelletier, Connecticut’s representative for a medical marijuana advocacy group called Americans for Safe Access, the industry’s growth makes patients and companies hopeful for the future expansion of cannabis-based care.

“Medical marijuana patients are optimistic about the recent industry expansion because of the increased product selection and competitive pricing it is bringing,” Pelletier told the News. “With over thirty states having legalized medical marijuana and the end of federal medical marijuana prohibition on the horizon, it is very likely the medical market will continue to expand access to patients in Connecticut for the foreseeable future.”

Green Thumb Industries’ acquisition gives it a stake into the state’s medicinal marijuana market, which could become even more profitable given current discussions among state lawmakers regarding a potential bill for recreational cannabis use.

While Lipton thinks that it is only a matter of time before Connecticut passes a recreational bill, he said that the state needs to expand the number of conditions that qualify for medicinal marijuana treatment, specifically general chronic pain and opioid addiction.

“Some states have introduced conditions for chronic pain and opioid replacement therapy, and I think a bill allowing for those conditions would really impact and potentially save the lives of so many people in Connecticut,” Lipton told the News.

According to the Department of Consumer Protection, the state has over 30 qualifying conditions and accepts petitions from the public to potentially add new ones. But with Massachusetts’ recent legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, advocates are now looking for Connecticut to follow suit.

Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 has repeatedly said that the legalization of recreational marijuana would greatly benefit the state with a massive tax revenue, as well as a reduction of opioid related deaths and the overall rate of incarceration.

“Cannabis prohibition has resulted in overdoses, overstretched law enforcement resources, racist sentencing practices and increased violence in our city,” Catalbasoglu said in an interview with the News. “I expect residents to choose a legal, regulated market over the black market, keeping them safe from violence associated with the drug trade and from adulterated cannabis and dangerous alternatives like K2.”

Last August, over 100 people overdosed from K2 — a form of synthetic marijuana — on the New Haven Green. The mass overdose involved the “highest number of victims in the shortest amount of time in the city’s memory,” according to New Haven Fire Chief John Alston.

According to 2017 data collected by S&P Global Ratings, Connecticut has the highest per capita state debt in the nation, with unfunded liabilities reaching $22,700 per citizen. Catalbasoglu believes that the potential tax revenue from legalization alone has the potential to begin to save the state from its financial crisis.

“Regulating and taxing cannabis like alcohol and tobacco is projected to bring $180 million in yearly tax revenue for Connecticut,” he told the News. “Our state is in the worst financial crisis in the country, and cannabis regulation and taxation could begin to close our deficit.”

Advanced Grow Labs was incorporated in 2014 and is based in West Haven, Connecticut.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu