The City of Norwich could soon have its first cannabis cultivator. A multi-state cannabis operator, based in Rhode Island, has plans to buy property in Norwich and, once fully licensed, open a cultivation facility within the next year.
Sweetspot Brands LLC is partnering with a social equity applicant from Stamford, John O'Leary, to form CT Plant Based Compassionate Care LLC (CT PBC). The state's Social Equity Council approved CT PBC as an applicant last month, along with 15 other social equity applicants, enabling them to move to the next phase of Connecticut's cannabis cultivation licensing process.
"It was probably the most excited we have ever been," said Blake Costa, a co-founder of Sweetspot and a Connecticut native. "Getting back to Connecticut, we have been trying for years to get a license there. I don't know how to describe the feeling."
CT PBC has not been issued a provisional license yet. According to the Department of Consumer Protection, a review of the applications is expected to take several weeks.
Once fully licensed, CT PBC will be required to set up in an area that was disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Select parts of 35 towns, more than 200 census tracts, qualify as disproportionately impacted areas (DIAs).
In order to be considered a DIA by the state's Social Equity Council, a census tract had to either have a historical conviction rate for drug-related offenses greater than one-tenth or an unemployment rate greater than 10%.
There are six DIAs identified within Norwich. Sweetspot has plans to buy the building at 5 Eighth St. in the Greeneville section of Norwich. According to state data, that census tract has an unemployment rate of 8.34% and a conviction rate for drug-related offenses of 14.25%.
"It is about opportunity," Costa said. "Recognizing that, 1, individuals have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs and then, 2, finding a way to give them opportunity to capitalize on what once struck them down."
According to Costa, CT PBC will bring over 40 high-paying jobs to Norwich and is expected to provide more than $7 million in economic stimulus to the area during construction.
"There is a big part of our business that values the community outreach part of it," Costa said. "Being able to go into a town that can use not only the revenue, but the jobs are super important to us."
Kevin Brown leads Norwich Community Development Corporation (NCDC), the city's economic development agency. Brown said that he is excited about CT PBC's plans and the economic impact that the cultivator will have on the community, but he said that the city is not done.
“We don’t want to land one cultivator here. We don’t want to hopefully get a retailer here," Brown said. "We want to create a cannabis industry hub here in Norwich, Connecticut.”
NCDC's website makes it clear. They have a cannabis section with information and at the top of the webpage are the words: "Norwich Welcomes the Cannabis Industry." The city has even identified properties in Norwich, within the DIA, that have the potential to be cannabis manufacturing locations.
“This is a new industry. It is emerging and we should take the opportunity to help build it here and build it right," Brown said. "I recognize that we have to be socially responsible with this.”
Brown said that the city is working to engage all aspects of the cannabis industry - from education to workforce, manufacturing to retail, and everything in between.
“We are engaged in conversations with educational organizations who want to bring certificate programs and partner with our cultivators in the town. We want to train people. We want to regulate the industry," Brown said. "We are not just chasing the dollar. We want to do it right.”
While some towns are deciding to prohibit cannabis establishments, Norwich is welcoming them with open arms.
"This is all about shifting from an understanding that cannabis is criminalized, to cannabis is legalized and that we want to impact those areas that were disproportionately impacted by that criminalization," Brown said. "So this is the town. This is the place. And it isn’t just because we need it badly. It is because this is the right place for it to happen and it’s a place where we need a lift so we are welcoming it for all of the right reasons.”
CT PBC hopes to open in Norwich within the next year. Brown said that his team is having ongoing conversations with additional operators.
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