Lamont proposes bill to legalize marijuana
HARTFORD — After working several weeks with the chairmen of several key legislative committees, Gov. Ned Lamont has submitted comprehensive legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use, test for impaired drivers, and support the participation of racial and ethic minorities in Connecticut’s future cannabis economy.
There is even a provision for retail deliveries of cannabis, if the proposal becomes a law and triggers a retail program during the summer of 2022.
The legislation Lamont has introduced to the General Assembly plans for the inevitability of retail sales for those over-21, and a regulatory structure headed by a new Cannabis Equity Commission led by the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, which currently supervises the state’s eight-year-old medical marijuana programs and its more than 38,000 registered patients.
And while the bill faces an uphill climb in an election year, Democratic leaders sound optimistic and Lamont underscored the issue during his State of the State speech on Wednesday, when he said that full legalization is inevitable and should be addressed on a regional effort with Rhode Island and New York State, even as Massachusetts enjoys robust sales from out-of-state residents.
“Coordinated regional regulation is our best chance to protect public health by displacing illicit sellers with trusted providers,” Lamont told lawmakers. “And it’s an opportunity to right the wrongs of a war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted our minority communities. We just marked the 100th anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out?”
“Look, you can drive from Hartford to Northampton in about 35 minutes,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the legislative Judiciary Committee. “We need to be sure to put in place a regulatory structure that works for Connecticut before it’s basically forced on us from folks in neighboring states.”
Last year, bills successfully emerged from the Judiciary, Finance, and General Law committees, but overall support collapsed toward the end of the legislative session, after inner-city clergy came out against legalization. Proponents vowed to revive the legislation this year and to possibly push for an amendment to the state Constitution that could be voted upon in 2022.
Stafstrom described the current legislation as a melding of last year’s bills. The governor’s proposed bill includes penalties for unauthorized sales outside of the regulatory framework; procedures for detecting and punishing those who drive under the influence; and the erasure of criminal convictions for those in possession of four ounces or less.
“To all the opponents I’d say what the governor said yesterday,” Stafstrom said. “Legal cannabis is here. It’s on our doorsteps. It’s on our borders.”
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter are optimistic that the bill could win approval in the short, 13-week budget-adjustment session.
“This is an issue I still believe if it were held today on a straight up-or-down vote, would pass for the legalization of marijuana,” Aresimowicz said. “We do have it in the state of Connecticut whether we want to talk about it or not. It’s what are we going to do with the regulations? What are we going to do to help the communities that are most-impacted? That’s where the discission is. The governor has tried to lead on this many times. I think he is taking a conservative view, but we in the legislature, we want to move a little more quickly.”
“It’s not about revenue,” said Ritter in the House chamber following Lamont’s speech. “If I hear that one more time, I’ll go crazy. It has nothing to do with revenue. It could raise $10 million, it could raise $100 (million). You can literally drive to other states and buy it, and there are many people who are here in this room today who probably do that. Legally abiding adults.”
While the personnel in the legislature has changed little since last year, Aresimowicz said that ideas can make people think and adjust their conclusions over time. “You don’t know what ideas have sprouted up; what other states have done; what the regional cooperation will do,” Aresimowicz.
“When it was just Connecticut trying to be first that was one thing, but now that Mass(achusetts) has legalized it, New York is not far behind and Rode Island is looking there, I think that is beginning to change public opinion as well,” Ritter said.
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