Nati Tesfaye, Contributing Photographer

On July 1, 2021, Connecticut legalized cannabis possession and use of up to 1.5 oz. A year and a half later, a line of customers stretched out the door of Affinity Dispensary, a former medical cannabis dispensary in New Haven, marking the beginning of legal recreational cannabis sales in the Elm City. But the launch of legal cannabis in New Haven also sparked community backlash and concerns about illegal cannabis sales. 

Cannabis refers to all the products, such as marijuana, weed and hash, derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. Cannabis contains over 100 types of different cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, an addictive psychoactive cannabinoid, impacts the brain — which can influence psychological or physical behaviors. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a milder, non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has recently gained medical popularity as a treatment for epilepsy or chronic pain.  

On Jan. 10, 2023, Affinity Dispensary, New Haven’s only adult-use cannabis dispensary, expanded into the recreational cannabis market. Customers are required to be 21 years or older and can only purchase up to a quarter of an ounce of cannabis flower at a time. 

In response to Affinity Dispensary’s expansion, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker held a press conference the day prior, outlining safety recommendations for the anticipated increase in marijuana use. The state continues to see a fiscally strong cannabis market, with $27.5 million in cannabis sales in December alone.

“The adult-use patient population that has been coming in so far for the last week, they’re very happy that we’re here,” said Ray Pantalena, Affinity’s owner, last January.  

Following the legalization of cannabis, members of the Yale and New Haven community have continued to debate the merits of legal recreational cannabis. 

Before the statewide legalization of marijuana, Yale Undergraduate Prison Project collaborated with Cage-Free Cannabis — an advocacy organization for justice in cannabis usage — to host a series of virtual speaker events on cannabis equity in Connecticut. Adam Vine, co-founder of Cage-Free Cannabis, hoped that these speaker series would highlight racial justice in cannabis legislation, especially given historical racial disparities in marijuana convictions. 

Connecticut’s policy on legal cannabis distribution reserves half of cannabis business licenses for dispensaries in disproportionately impacted neighborhoods, with a Social Equity Council overseeing the issuance of these licenses. In 2022, the Board of Alders approved the City of New Haven Adult-Use Cannabis Zoning Ordinance, which prohibits cannabis operations in residential zones. Cannabis establishment owners are required to apply for a special permit to operate.

Cannabis legalization has met backlash from some New Haveners. Crystal Gooding, chair of the Dixwell Community Management Team, raised concerns about cannabis establishments inflicting more addiction onto neighborhoods already victims of cannabis use. Bruce Seymour, the landlord of the Jitter Bus in Wooster Square, noted that he would “never lease to cannabis dispensaries, alcohol vendors, or smoke shops” when asked about the new Jitter Bus location in January. 

In recent months, New Haven has also seen a state crackdown on illegal cannabis sales. 

In January, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong sued Anesthesia Smoke Shop on Chapel Street for illegal cannabis distribution and lack of state-mandated warning labels. Underage Yale students were also able to buy cannabis from Anesthesia, with transactions dating back to 2022. An anonymous student told the News in January that they were never asked for their ID at the downtown shop. 

“The only questioning I’ve experienced is if I’m paying with cash,” said the anonymous student. 

The legal age to buy cannabis in Connecticut is 21 years and older. Anesthesia, along with four additional cannabis establishments, was charged $40,000 for violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. In a press release, Tong promised to continue investigating additional retailers and “will keep the heat on so long as these dangerous, illegal products are sold.” 

Beginning Dec. 1, cannabis transaction limits have been increased by the Department of Consumer Protection by a half ounce of cannabis flower at a time. 

EMILY KHYM