Democrats will push legalizing pot as part of budget fix

A marijuana plant

Senate and House Democrats will recommend the legalization, licensing and taxation of marijuana sales in Connecticut to help balance the next state budget, sources close to the caucuses told The Mirror.

Democratic legislative leaders are expected to release proposals later today to help close a projected gap of roughly $5 billion in the next two-year state budget.

Marijuana legalization would be just one component of a much larger plan, sources said, adding that the caucuses assume this would yield about $60 million in additional revenue for the state next fiscal year, and $180 million by 2018-19.

Those revenue estimates are slightly more aggressive than those produced by the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis back in February.

OFA estimated that Connecticut could raise between $30 million and $105 million per year if the state were to adopt a model similar to those enacted in Massachusetts or Colorado.

Analysts based their projections for marijuana-related revenue on Connecticut’s present base sales tax rate of 6.35 percent.

But they also project that Connecticut would need to spend about 14 percent of any new sales tax revenue produced to cover the cost of regulating and licensing marijuana sales.

State finances, unless adjusted, would run $2.2 billion and $2.7 billion, respectively, in the upcoming biennium, according to the nonpartisan analysts. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration pegs the potential deficits at $2.3 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively, or $5.1 billion for the biennium.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, has recommended in recent years that Connecticut consider legalization as a means to diversify the state’s revenue stream.

In recent years, Connecticut has legalized marijuana use for palliative purposes and decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug.

Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam, ranking House Republican on the Appropriations Committee, also favors legalization.

But the proposal remains very controversial and also has plenty of high-profile opponents.

Malloy has not said whether legalization of marijuana would be a budget deal-breaker — in other words, whether he would veto a budget just to stop legalization — but has said he opposes it in concept.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, also has said she believes legalization would be a mistake.