Cannabis buds (CTNewsJunkie / photo)
Cannabis buds (CTNewsJunkie / photo)

A state panel tasked with ensuring the equitable rollout of the recreational cannabis law began to take shape Thursday as Gov. Ned Lamont appointed five members to the newly created Social Equity Council. 

The governor named Joseph Williams, a trade specialist for a small business development center at the University of Connecticut, and Kelli Vallieres, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategies who earned a doctorate in adult experiential learning. 

In a press release, Lamont said the long-running war on drugs was more of a war on Black and brown communities where it caused injustices and disparities.

“The carefully selected and well-qualified Social Equity Council will play an important role as Connecticut’s cannabis marketplace transitions from one that has been dangerous and unregulated, to one that will support a new equitable sector of our economy,” the governor said. 

Lamont also appointed three of his executive agency directors to the council including David Lehman, commissioner of economic and community development, Melissa McCaw, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and Andrea Comer, interim deputy commissioner of consumer protection. The governor is expected to make two additional appointments to the group.

During months of negotiations this year, legislative Democrats and Lamont’s office agonized over the best ways to make sure that communities impacted by the war on drugs get a fair stake in the cannabis industry created by the law. 

One outcome of those negotiations was the 15-member panel that will help to direct cannabis-related revenues, guide the issuance of some business licenses, and develop programs to support communities with high rates of drug arrests and poverty. 

The bill set a tight timeline for establishing the panel. Its members were to be named within 30 days of passage. Lamont signed the bill on June 22. In addition to the governor, the bill calls for appointments from legislative leaders including Democrats and Republicans of both chambers as well as the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. 

As of Friday, House Speaker Matt Ritter had appointed Subira Gordon, executive director of the education advocacy group ConnCANN, Senate President Martin Looney had appointed New Haven attorney Michael Jefferson, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff named Edwin Shirley, a senior advisor at Fairview Capital, and House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora had appointed Corrie Betts, a realtor in Hartford and advocate with the NAACP.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and Rep. Gerry Reyes, chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, had yet to make appointments.

On June 30, Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas released a statement seeking candidates for the council. 

“We are seeking applications from qualified individuals who want to shape Connecticut’s newly-established cannabis market and steer it in the direction of equity and prosperity for those who have been harmed the most by cannabis prohibition,” Ritter and Rojas said. 

The first provisions of the recreational cannabis law have already gone into effect. As of July 1, residents at least 21 years old can carry up to 1.5 ounces of the substance or possess up to 5 ounces in their homes or locked in the glove box or trunk of their vehicles. The new law also has made it illegal for police to use its smell as probable cause to stop or search a vehicle.