For many years, members of my congregation and communities across our state have been negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition. This year, our lawmakers in Hartford are finally working on a solution. It’s time that we all stand together to end this failed policy and move forward in a way that will lift our communities up and allow our state to move forward.
Much like Prohibition in the 1920s, our efforts to deal with cannabis using law enforcement and the criminal justice system have been a total failure. They have destroyed countless lives, ripped families apart, fueled violence and organized crime, and consumed precious taxpayer dollars. And yet, despite decades of criminalization, cannabis is still widely available, and there are no regulations to protect the health and safety of the general public.
It clearly is not possible for police and courts to stop our people from using cannabis. Despite the fact that it has been illegal for decades, nearly half a million Connecticut residents — that’s about one in seven — admit they have used cannabis in the past year.
Even more startling, 80 percent of 18-year-olds have consistently reported “easy” access to marijuana since the 1970s. If our current policies were doing a good job of protecting young people, then our state legislators probably wouldn’t even be talking about the need to regulate cannabis.
One of the key features of the regulated system being discussed by lawmakers is that cannabis will be produced and sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses instead of drug cartels and criminals. Regulation will also free up resources so that police can focus on more serious crimes and also help improve police/ community relationships. And, instead of continuing to fuel organized crime, the money spent on cannabis in our state can and should be used to help revitalize communities that have been disproportionately harmed by enforcement of laws against cannabis.
To be clear, I do not recommend the recreational use of cannabis any more than I would recommend the recreational use of alcohol. We know that both of these substances can be abused, and adults who choose to use them should be expected to take responsibility for their actions. However, it’s clear that our state’s current policy of prohibition is failing everyone, especially our young people. And, I also think we as community leaders need to stand up to demand that those folks most directly impacted by this failed policy be involved in developing the solution – a new policy that is aimed at reducing harms rather than foolishly seeking to eliminate all cannabis use.
It’s only fair that those who have been most adversely affected by enforcement of the current laws should be afforded the opportunity to benefit from legalization. So far, the states that have legalized cannabis have fallen short in this regard, but our legislative leaders have made it clear that they are serious about ensuring that there will be equity in the cannabis industry here in Connecticut. The bills that have been approved by legislative committees contain strong social equity provisions, and tax revenues would be allocated to communities that have been negatively impacted by our current, failed policies.
Connecticut can’t afford to wait any longer before addressing this urgent issue. It’s time to right the many wrongs associated with the prohibition of marijuana, and Connecticut can and should be a leader in this process. I urge our legislators to pass these bills to regulate and tax cannabis for adults and end the harmful and failed policy of prohibition in our state.
Bishop Robert L. Middleton is Pastor of New Beginnings Ministry in Hamden.
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