Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie photo
Bill signing ceremony at Lasa Extract (Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie photo)

SUFFIELD, CT—In a converted tobacco factory thick with the smell of marijuana, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill Tuesday keeping more than a hundred Connecticut hemp businesses from falling out of compliance with federal rules.

Lamont visited Lasa Extract, a CBD extraction company co-founded by former jai alai player Rick Sotil, to sign recently-passed legislation on hemp farming. The bill keeps Connecticut’s fledgling industrial program in compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements.

Without the legislation, cannabis-based businesses could have found themselves unlicensed. State Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt said the state has licensed about 170 hemp-based businesses who grow crops on around 500 acres of property.

The businesses “didn’t realize they were going to have this responsibility if something didn’t happen. So [without the bill] there would have been a gap period where they would have had crops in the ground or in storage that was an unlicensed crop, that could have essentially been seized,” Hurlburt said.

Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie photo
Gov. Ned Lamont (Hugh McQuaid / ctnewsjunkie photo)

The new law tweaks Connecticut’s hemp program to keep it in compliance. It combines two existing licenses into one and extends the licensing period from two to three years. It changes the application of a $250 fine for manufacturing hemp products without a license. The bill also exempts information on hemp growers’ locations and product testing results from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act but permits the disclosure of that information to law enforcement officials.

Lamont toured the renovated tobacco building with Sotil, asking questions about CBD, an extract of the hemp plant which proponents claim helps with the symptoms of myriad ailments. “It’s a relaxant. We can use this in the legislature,” Lamont remarked to some state lawmakers at the event. Before signing the bill, the governor said he loved transformations.

“This is a building where we used to make shade tobacco here and that was one of our great crops. We were the best in the world. Fidel Castro knew we had the best shade tobacco in the world. But the world changed …  So we continue to evolve and that’s what hemp is about right here,” Lamont said.

Sotil, who co-founded the company with his wife Valentina, said he hoped to position the old tobacco factory as the “megacenter” of the New England hemp industry. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney called the new law a combination of state and federal action to “keep the lights on” for Connecticut’s hemp businesses. But Courtney said the Suffield facility which processes the hemp crop also helps advance the state’s hemp industry.

“Not just in Connecticut but across New England, the biggest struggle they have is this stuff is kinda easy to grow … but harvesting it and processing it is a whole ‘nother step to really make it an economically viable agriculture product,” Courtney said. “The more volume that we can process, means more opportunity for Connecticut agriculture.”

Lamont said he expects the state’s hemp industry to expand in the future. Asked about the likelihood of Connecticut legalizing recreational marijuana during the next legislative session, the governor said he expects it to come up and said he continues to support the effort.

In “Massachusetts, right across the border, it’s legal. New Jersey is voting on it, I think, in about three weeks. I know New York and Rhode Island are both considering it,” Lamont said. “One of the things we’ve learned in the last six months is often things work on a regional basis, so I have a feeling it’s something the legislature will be bringing up.”