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Cannabis companies seek clarity on the role of Connecticut’s consultant on their applications

A marijuana plant is displayed during the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit & Expo last month in Oakland, Calif.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
A marijuana plant is displayed during the 2016 Cannabis Business Summit & Expo last month in Oakland, Calif.

The council tasked with equitably rolling out Connecticut’s cannabis industry has hired a consultant to vet potential retail marijuana companies — a process being reviewed in court.

The state Social Equity Council tasked CohnReznick LLP with “creat[ing] a comprehensive review system” when the firm was brought on board in March 2021, as the “vendor to review and approve social equity applications submitted through [the state Department of Consumer Protection].”

“I actually have a lot of respect for CohnReznick,” Mary Miller, an attorney at Reid and Riege, P.C., said of the consultant. “I think they're doing a good job, but I don't know what job it is they're doing.”

To outsiders, the process the state takes is nebulous without council meeting minutes or a detailed explanation of the application review system posted online. The council and CohnReznick did not respond to requests for comment.

Reid and Riege is a law firm representing Leaf CT LLC, one of the plaintiffs in the consolidated case against the state for wrongful denials of social equity applications for cannabis licenses. Those are applicants from areas disproportionately impacted by poverty and drug convictions.

Leaf CT filed two applications with the council, both of which were denied. Reid and Riege appealed the denials for both the cultivator license and the hybrid retailer license.

CohnReznick recommended those denials. In fact, the council accepted all 11 of the firm’s recommendations in its September 7 meeting.

Leaf CT, which was not given a chance to revise its applications after either denial, is among 11 plaintiffs challenging the state process in the consolidated case.

“I have never gotten the sense that they are doing this, you know, in any vindictive or spiteful way,” Miller said. “I think they are just purely overwhelmed by the volume of [applications], and just really trying to keep their heads above water and deal with it.”

The lawsuits don’t target CohnReznick directly for recommending the denials.

Kristina Diamond, the legislative program manager for the council, said CohnReznick was selected among five accounting firms.

“CohnReznick was chosen for their ability to provide valuable expertise in reviewing the applications, which includes complex analysis of income and residency documents and business structures,” she said.

Diamond called the accounting firm a strong partner and that “there are no drawbacks” to having CohnReznick on board.

While Miller said she doesn’t think bringing in a consultant is a poor decision, especially when outside professionals can help with aspects that go beyond councilmembers’ abilities, she finds some fault.

“The key problem with using an outsider to give that kind of advice is that you suddenly lose that clarity,” she said. “I can't see what the basis is and that's what troubles me, because I would like to better understand how they came up with their rubric, what they were weighing, what they were looking at.”

In its September 7 meeting, the council offered clarity with its plan to use a workforce development rubric to assess applications and offer opportunities for application revisions.

“I think that that's probably going to fix so many headaches for both the applicants, and actually for the [council],” Miller said. “Just to be given even one chance at revision could make a huge difference going forward.”

Kalleen Rose Ozanic is a former intern at WSHU.