A marijuana plant
Lawmakers say a plan to legalize recreational marijuana doesn’t have the votes needed to clear the state House.
Lawmakers say a plan to legalize recreational marijuana doesn’t have the votes needed to clear the state House.

Proponents of the ambitious effort to legalize recreational marijuana are exploring a fallback now that it appears they don’t have the votes for passage — placing the issue on the ballot next year in the form of a constitutional amendment.

The move, though cumbersome, would put the decision squarely in the hands of voters, the path to legalization taken in Colorado and Massachusetts. But unlike Connecticut, those states allow citizens to petition for referendums on proposed laws.

“It’s an interesting idea that we’re talking about,” House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter said. “In the states that have legalized it, it has been done mostly through direct initiatives or constitutional amendments and a referendum vote.”

Legislators said Monday that after a House Democratic caucus meeting, it became clear supporters didn’t have the votes necessary to advance the proposal. Three separate bills passed out of committees this year – one that would lay the foundation for a marijuana industry in Connecticut, another that would erase the criminal records of people who have committed low-level drug offenses, and a third that deals with taxation and distribution of the revenue. Prior to a General Assembly vote, lawmakers planned to combine the three into a single omnibus bill.

But hopes dimmed last week after lawmakers met.

“I don’t see a path to getting it passed,” said State Rep. Josh Elliott, a key backer of the effort. “So we started toying with the idea of, ‘What does it look like if we just put this up as a ballot initiative?’ And I think that is going to be the only way for us to get it done.”

Elliott said it was probably too late to introduce the new take on legalizing the recreational drug this session. But a handful of proponents have begun batting around the idea for next year.

Amending the constitution is not simple. Legislators would have to pass a resolution allowing the proposal to appear on the ballot. How quickly it goes to a referendum depends on how much support the measure gets.

If three-quarters of both the House and Senate endorse a resolution, it is placed on the ballot in the next biennial state election.

If both chambers pass the measure, but at least one does so with less than a 75 percent endorsement, then it must be referred to the 2021 session of the legislature. If it passes in that session by a simple majority, it would appear on the 2022 general election ballot.

From there, a majority of voters must sign off on the amendment for it to become part of the state constitution.

State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said views have long been split on the hot-button issue, but the plan to legalize recreational marijuana ran into stiff opposition recently as lawmakers received pressure from African American and Latino faith-based leaders.

State Rep. Juan Candelaria and other supporters are considering placing the issue on the ballot next year. Marishia Ricks | New Haven Independent

“We did a vote count and based on the feedback we got, the votes were not there to pass it,” he said of House Democrats, which make up the majority of the chamber. “Some are concerned because they’ve been receiving pressure from the faith-based community in their neighborhoods and they’re holding off on supporting the measure.”

After the vote tally, questions were raised about the feasibility of placing the proposal on the ballot in an upcoming election. Candelaria said it’s too early to gauge whether the suggestion would catch fire, but he’s in favor.

“We’re already thinking about Plan B,” he said. “This removes it from the legislature and puts the burden on the voters. I feel that my colleagues would be more accommodating … of the measure in a constitutional amendment because it puts the ownership on the voters.”

Some legislators, including Sen. President Pro Tem. Martin Looney, have suggested the marijuana proposal may come up in a special session. The regular session adjourns June 5.

But proponents said the effort was losing momentum with each passing week.

“We’re late in the game,” Candelaria said. “If we don’t do anything this week, it’s going to be very difficult.”

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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  1. Legalizing Marijuana will just ad’s to Ct social problems.there’s no good in drugs except for the money it generates for tax and spend democrats

    1. What, by taking ubiquitous illegal drugs and generating tax revenue by making them legal? It would also reduce the number of petty drug offenders (who are disproportionately Black and Brown) from ever entering the workforce because they couldn’t get mommy and daddy to pay for a good lawyer. Cannabis is already being treated by users like its legal, why not help solve our fiscal problems by just making it so?

  2. I am very glad that the path to legalization is such a bumpy one. I am very glad it won’t get passed by legislation. I am very glad that there has been “stiff opposition… from African American and Latino faith-based leaders”. They are obviously much more aware of and concerned about the negative effects of legal pot on their communities than the pro-legalization legislators are. Add in the social, economic, employment, educational, physical and mental health, and public safety consequences (as proven in those states where recreational marijuana is already legal), lack of safety testing and standards for determining impairment, and opposition by medical societies, and there are very good reasons NOT to legalize marijuana. Whatever revenue would come to the state simply is not worth it.

  3. Here in Connecticut, when “progressives” get no for an answer, they just keep at it until they get the answer they want. For instance, when they didn’t like that the electoral college system could possibly elect someone as President they couldn’t stand, they passed legislation to cancel all the dissenting votes in this state and give them to the candidate with the majority of votes. If they can’t pass a marijuana bill in the GA, then of course they must amend the constitution.

    I hope everyone is enjoying our progressive utopia here in the People’s Republic of Connecticut.

    1. Huh? What does the legalization of Cannabis have to do with this supposed progressive utopia idea?

      Legalization would generate a huge amount of revenue redirecting it from the shadow economy into the actual tax base (revenue we desperately need) and probably wouldn’t create many more new users. It would be a job creator, a revenue generator and would ease the burden of taxpayers by way of fewer petty drug arrests and incarcerations. It’s a Libertarian dream and would do exactly the opposite of what many uninformed people believe to be a “progressive” aim, add to the economy instead of taking from it.

      Please go complain about what you think progressives want to a story more relevant to that complaint.

  4. So. We have dem gov who ran on legalization. We voted to point that dems contol the GA and governer and this can’t get done. Why did we vote for you. It looks like they are more concerned with there direct job than working for the people that put them there. Hope the same happens with tolls. But we will just continue to go to Massachusetts for a couple more years. We love giving them our money for there taxes. Just like most issues. Waiting on our reps to actually rep us never happens.

  5. It’s still against federal law… So I have trouble with those that think it’s ok to simply ignore current law. Where does that end???
    Additionally, today’s weed is so potent compared to the 1970s that it is NOT the harmless drug that supporters claim it to be. You will never convince me that it is not a gateway drug.
    Finally… I can think of dozens of jobs where I would never want a employee doing that job to be a Pothead!!!

  6. I just can’t believe that this cannot get done. We put the dems in charge in nov to provide us the liberal agenda we asked for. They have enough “D” in both houses and a willing governor to sign. So sad

  7. What I do not understand. What does it matter what I put into my body. It does not affect you. All the lies that have been spread over the years to keep it illegal are being re-introduced as fact again when it is not. Legalize it instead of locking people up.

    1. Perhaps if you live alone, don’t drive, and don’t work, possibly your marijuana use will affect nobody but you. And the whole “people go to jail for having a joint” argument is fiction. Always was fiction. And it’s especially so since Connecticut has already decriminalized possession of a very small amount. Legalization comes with many consequences and would be a huge mistake. All one has to do it look at statistics in those states where it has been legal for years already.

  8. Looks like dems can’t take the tough votes we put them in office for. But good news. As of now still no tolls either.

  9. The article seems to hint at the fact that many legislators in larger cities may be opposed to the legislation because of pressure from faith based organizations. To me, its just another bit of magical thinking that we’ll be able to hold off the advancement of legalization because they believe that it affects Black and Brown folks more.

    The facts are that the rates of use are the same across racial lines but legalization would also come with less of us being hassled by police because they “smell Marijuana,” the release and expunging of petty drug offenses and the possibility of greater entrepreneurial entry by those same folks. It would be a larger gain to communities of color than it could ever be a determent.

    I think any bill should include funding for entrepreneurial resources for former petty offenders and put to use some of the training they already had in the illegal trade turning them into the producers rather than the stereotypical “takers.” Another major recipient of the revenue should be the effort to reduce opioid dependence in the state. If anyone thinks Cannabis use is going to go down without legalization, they are delusional.

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