At one year, New Haven’s cannabis industry is rolling along
After a year of legalized sales in Connecticut, the cannabis industry has steadily grown and is expecting a strong fiscal performance.
On Jan 10. 2023, retail sales of recreational cannabis commenced in New Haven after it was legalized in the state a year and a half earlier. By quarter four of the fiscal year, the adult-use market saw $15.3 million in sales in November alone.
Affinity Dispensary, the sole dispensary in New Haven has become one of the biggest contributors to the growth of this industry.
The dispensary, which serves both medicinal and adult-use customers, underwent a smooth transition and capped the year off with a healthy growth in sales.
“The state enjoyed a very successful first year. We saw a successful rollout, and the Department of Consumer Protection was very thoughtful when they began rolling out adult-use products,” said Ray Pantelana, Affinity Dispensary’s founder. “We saw a smooth transition from a medical to hybrid market. We are really proud of our sales. There are always things that can be done better, but we along with the state did a good job of getting things off the ground.”
This transition is in large part due to the growing nature of both production and distribution, according to Pantalena.
There are currently six marijuana producers, who cultivate the product, in the state, two of which opened last year. There are also 11 more with provisional licenses.
Given ordinances that stipulate that state dispensaries can only sell cannabis grown in Connecticut, these nascent businesses rely heavily on state cultivators.
To meet demand and expand its operations, Affinity also recently opened another site in Bridgeport.
“We opened a couple of weeks ago,” Pantalena said of the Bridgeport location. “It’s an 8000 square feet store, and it’s Connecticut’s first superstore. We are looking to serve Bridgeport and the greater Fairfield area, which has seen a rise in demand. I think we will be seeing a ton of new stores opening up this coming year.”
This growth is not specific to Affinity, however, as there are now 64 dispensaries with either provisional or final licenses across the state.
Adam Wood, the president of Connecticut’s Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, shared Pantalena’s optimism.
The organization, which is the state’s leading trading association for businesses in the cannabis industry, has been a key player in shaping the market since its inception in 2022.
“This product has always been present in our state for a long time, and many people just wanted it to be regulated, and the regulation brought health and safety benefits. I think the zoning and the citations from most towns have been accommodating and an understandable approach,” Wood said. “Some cities and municipalities have embraced it and have created an economy that helps and uplifts the communities.”
Despite the market’s steady growth, Wood said he believes there are still some key barriers to entry and operation, one of which is access to capital. To aid emerging dispensaries the state has founded a $50 million social equity fund, which will provide low-interest loans to the businesses.
The Cannabis Chamber of Commerce has been working with the state to accelerate this loan program and has also tried to tackle other regulatory obstacles, one of these being hampered marketing.
“When you go into a dispensary you can’t see any of the products. There’s a menu, but you can’t physically see the products,” Wood said. “If you go to Massachusetts and other states and go into dispensaries, they have all the products displayed and they’re colorful and branded. There’s really creative marketing, but none of that exists here.”
There have been some efforts in the state legislature to deregulate branding, but the concern of cannabis becoming more appealing to younger audiences still looms, according to Wood.
Despite these hurdles, Pantalena and Wood are still expecting a strong year for the market.
Affinity hopes to see a “10-12 percent growth rate in expansion,” and Wood expects “over a dozen” new cultivators across the state.
There is still a hint of volatility and variability in the margins of businesses, according to Wood, but the industry is expected to increase its profit margins and expand.
In a sign of the industry’s growth, the Department of Consumer Protection recently raised the transaction limitations of dispensaries across the state.
Beginning Dec. 1, transaction limits for adult-use customers increased to 1/2 ounce of raw flower or the equivalent per transaction, according to the Department of Consumer Protection’s new rule. The limit for medical marijuana patients stayed the same under the new rule.
Affinity Dispensary’s New Haven site is located at 1351 Whalley Ave.