Legislators are exploring the idea of bringing the issue up next year as a constitutional amendment.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Monday that would legalize recreational pot and wipe clean the criminal records of people who have committed low-level drug offenses.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Monday that would legalize recreational pot and wipe clean the criminal records of people who have committed low-level drug offenses.

A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana and erase the criminal records of people who have committed low-level drug offenses – the second piece in a package of cannabis-related legislation – cleared a key committee Monday over the objections of lawmakers who fear the change will make it easier for children to get the drug.

Although the measure would ban the sale of marijuana to people younger than 21, several members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee argued that legalizing it would make it more enticing and available to children.

“We are telling our youth: ‘It’s not that bad, go ahead and try it,’” said Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, who voted against the bill. “Heroin users, cocaine users, you talk to a lot of them, there’s always some drug they used before that. … Marijuana is one of those drugs that jumpstarts it.”

“We should be in the business of passing laws that keep people safe,” he said. “Marijuana is not going to keep anybody safe.”

Rep. Richard Smith, R-Fairfield, called the bill “a major step backward” in shielding young people from drugs.

“If anybody on this committee says that when the drinking age was 18 – that people didn’t try to drink at 16 – I think you’re lying to yourself. That’s what’s going to happen here,” Smith said. Marijuana “is going to be more affordable. It’s going to be more prevalent. It’s going to be more obtainable.”

“We are telling our youth: ‘It’s not that bad, go ahead and try it.’”

Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon

Concerns that dominated the debate also included the potent effect of mixing marijuana with alcohol, the possible increase of people driving while high, and an expansion of the black market.

A handful of Republicans said they would support one provision of the bill – the expungement of criminal records for low-level marijuana possession offenses – but not the drug’s legalization. They suggested that the expungement and the legalization should be two separate measures.

But proponents said it was time to make legal a drug that for years has been commonplace in Connecticut.

“Marijuana is in every single community – white, black, brown,” said Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport. “It’s in every single level of our community. It’s with affluent people. It’s with people who are impoverished. We have to be real about where we’re living today.”

Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, said her support for the measure was inspired largely by the War on Drugs’ disparate impact on people of color.

“Given the racial animus and racial impact of the enforcement and criminalization of cannabis in the past, that’s a factor that is hard for me to get around,” she said.

The sharply divided committee ultimately approved the bill 21-19, with members voting mostly along party lines.

“Marijuana is in every single community – white, black, brown. We have to be real about where we’re living today.”

Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport 

Another measure that would lay the foundation for a marijuana industry in Connecticut by establishing a licensing process for growers, manufacturers and retailers of the drug cleared the General Law Committee last month. That bill also provides equity incentives for people in areas where high rates of pot-related arrests have occurred. Advantages include lower fees and priority in the application process.

A proposal to tax marijuana is still being developed by lawmakers. Legislative leaders have said it would likely be similar to the effective 20 percent rate imposed in neighboring Massachusetts.

The Bay State adopted a 17 percent levy on the drug – a 10.75 percent excise tax and a 6.25 percent sales tax. In addition, Massachusetts cities and towns can impose a 3 percent local surcharge.

The Judiciary Committee on Monday also approved two other cannabis-related bills — one that would allow employers to restrict the types of job duties people could perform while under the influence of marijuana and another that would prohibit drivers and passengers from smoking marijuana in a vehicle.

The second measure would authorize spending $500,000 for police to be trained as drug recognition experts.

‘Upskirting’ bill advances

The committee unanimously supported a bill designed to close a loophole in the state’s anti-voyeurism statute.

The law already bans people from knowingly filming, photographing or video recording a person’s undergarments or genitals or buttocks in an area “where such other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

But Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, a co-chairman of the committee, said the state’s attorneys have reported “a number of instances” in which they could not charge someone with violating this statute because the action occurred in a public place.

The so-called “upskirting” bill makes it clear that no photography or video recording of sensitive areas may occur “under or around a person’s clothing” – even in a public place.

Rep. Stephanie Cummings, R-Waterbury, said that as someone who often wears skirts, “I couldn’t imagine we couldn’t be walking around this building without a right to privacy.”

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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2 Comments

  1. Where will the money come from to pay for all the programs which will help folks who will chronically overuse this drug? We of course know that any taxes from the drug will go into the black hole of Calcutta known as the state General Fund to pay for state union worker retirements.

    Please sing along with me: ” ’cause I got high, because I got high, because I got high….” This is fast becoming our state legislature theme song.

  2. “Marijuana is in every single community – white, black, brown. We have to be real about where we’re living today.”

    I’d wager a much higher percentage of people speed when they drive than use pot. Would he suggest we just make speeding legal, too?

    The CGA’s effort to legalize pot and sports gambling is about one thing—more money to spend on their Wish Lists.

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