Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, at podium, discusses cannibis legalization, joined by Sens. Saud Anwar of South Windsor (far left) and Will Haskell of Westport
Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, at the lectern, discusses cannabis legalization, joined by Sens. Saud Anwar of South Windsor (far left) and Will Haskell of Westport

Though Connecticut legislators tend to shy away from controversial issues during a re-election year, Senate Democrats insisted Thursday that legalization of recreational marijuana use still could be enacted this year — even with the entire legislature up for election in November.

The keys to avoiding election year gridlock — Senate Democratic leaders said — include bundling marijuana legalization with assistance for poor, marginalized communities and expungement of certain drug-related criminal records, as well as building on bill research undertaken last year.

Pro-legalization forces also may benefit, leaders said, from a stronger push from Gov. Ned Lamont, new legalization efforts in nearby states as well as Connecticut consumers’ growing familiarity with the marijuana market in neighboring Massachusetts.

Legalizing recreational marijuana use and taxing its sale is “a reality we should have dealt with already,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said during the late morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building. “I think the time has come. We need to recognize it.”

“We have hundreds of people driving to Massachusetts every day, every week, to buy recreational cannabis. Is that in the best interest of this state?”

Gov. Ned Lamont

A measure raised last year carried a fiscal note projecting Connecticut could make $70 million in the first year of legalization and about $160 million annually after that.

Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, who co-chairs the Education Committee and supports legalization, said other advocates often emphasize the revenues the state could gain by taxing cannabis sales.

“How ironic it is right now that we’re thinking about passing legislation to sell legalized cannabis to pay our bills, when we had a number of people who have risked their lives and liberty to do the same thing to pay their bills,” McCrory said, referring to some of those convicted of selling cannabis illegally.

A more effective strategy, he continued, would be to emphasize how legalization could be used to reverse decades of injustice.

The bill must include expungement of the criminal records of some drug-related offenders, as well as opportunities for residents of poor, marginalized communities to work in the cultivation, processing, distribution and sales of cannabis products, he said.

If equity issues are not addressed, McCrory added, “I don’t think we have a snowball’s chance to get this legislation passed.”

Looney noted that Lamont, who largely stayed out of the marijuana debate in 2019, has indicated he plans to play a stronger role in pushing for legalization.

“I think the times are changing,” the governor told Capitol reporters on Wednesday. “Look at what all of our neighboring states are doing. Right now we have hundreds of people driving to Massachusetts every day, every week, to buy recreational cannabis. Is that in the best interest of this state?”

And Looney added Thursday that Massachusetts’ marijuana market isn’t the only one to consider. New York and Rhode Island are considering bills to legalize pot sales, and a referendum is planned in Rhode Island.

Recent polling data shows Connecticut consumers are very familiar with states’ efforts to legalize marijuana sales and favor it happening here, Looney said.

“I don’t think we want to put our heads in the sand and be in a position equivalent to a state that refused to recognize that prohibition of alcohol … was a failure” in the 1920s and early 1930s, he said.

But Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, predicted Thursday that any push to legalize pot sales here would generate strong public backlash.

“We should be having conversations with our youth in the schools, who tell us how you can’t go to the bathroom, you can’t get on a bus, you can’t go down a hallway without seeing marijuana or some sort of product,” he said. “That’s the epidemic that we should be addressing.”

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.

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. All the data needed for an informed decision on cannabis legalization has already been collected and can be found at the CDC web site.
    Numbers of deaths per year in the USA:
    * Prescription Drugs: 237,485 + 5,000 traffic fatalities
    * Tobacco: 480,000
    * Alcohol: 88,013 + 16,000 traffic fatalities
    * Marijuana: 0, none, not a single fatal toxic overdose and by comparison to alcoholic beverages and pharmaceutical drugs almost no traffic problems.

    So, which is safer???? Legalize, regulate, and TAX recreational cannabis!

    1. Same old nonsense. All one has to do is look at the impact reports prepared by those states where recreational marijuana is already legal. And watch the evening news, where there are increasingly reports that marijuana is hazardous to pregnant women, marijuana is bad for the heart, marijuana causes cognitive and developmental changes in the brains of young people, impairment from marijuana lasts long after the high is over, and so on and so on. The impact reports contain information about increases in traffic accidents and fatalities, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, need for addiction treatment, accidental exposures and poisonings, workplace and school issues, homelessness, and crimes. And legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana will never, never, never eliminate the black market, which STILL thrives in every state that has legal, regulated and taxed marijuana.

  2. Recreational marijuana is still illegal under Federal law. Period. As long as it is, proposing and debating State legislation such a this is a waste of CT taxpayers’ time and money. Period.

    Yet people want to make these legislators full-time?

    1. I’m not clear on how legalizing pot, regulating the sale of pot, and taxing the sale of pot with the state and municipalities making money off of those taxes is going to be a waste of CT taxpayers’ time and money. I understand that the stigma of pot is still prevalent in the older generation of Americans but the fact is that the majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing pot. And Papa, pot sales in Mass have exceeded $400 million with an excess of $65 million being collected by the state and municipalities in taxes. Well, I guess if you don’t want pot we can always have tolls.

      1. As an occasional consumer of cannabis I understand the arguments supporting its legalization for recreational consumption.
        HOWEVER, as a savvy taxpayer in this highly over-taxed state, I cannot support adding an additional revenue stream to a state government that has no desire or ability to economize.
        There are few good reasons that government has to increase the depth at which they reach into our pockets year after year.
        Show me how you can reduce the cost (and waste) of our tax dollars AND what existing tax you’ll reduce or eliminate if cannabis is to be legalized and taxed for recreational use, and you may find a supporter.
        Further, show me how you’ll insure that the justification for instituting any new form of taxation will guarantee that the funds will continue to support said justification. Lotto was instituted specifically for education – where are we today?
        Until that happens, I’ll take my chances with the current, readily available marketplace.

      2. Legalization will ultimately cost more than it brings in revenue. I’ve read some of the impact reports from those states that have legalized: Increases in traffic accidents and fatalities, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, addiction treatment, accidental exposures and poisonings by children and pets, homelessness, crimes, and school and workplace issues. If legal pot is so wonderful, why do so many municipalities refuse to have any marijuana businesses? Massachusetts is having troubles of its own with permits and approvals for pot businesses; the mayor of Fall River was arrested in September, charged with (among other things) extortion and bribery related to marijuana businesses. And legal pot will never, never, never eliminate the black market — it continues to thrive in every state with legalized recreational marijuana.

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