The Judiciary Committee voted narrowly Tuesday to advance a bill offered by Gov. Ned Lamont that would legalize recreational marijuana in Connecticut.
“The bill before us, I’m sure, will see additional revision as it moves through the legislative process and its next committee of assignment,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers made a number of changes to Lamont’s proposed bill after an all-day public hearing on Feb. 26. Those alterations include allowing patients in the state’s medical marijuana program to grow up to six plants in their homes, beginning in 2022; permitting only existing medical marijuana establishments and “social equity applicants” to open cannabis shops from July 2021 to January 2024; requiring cannabis shops to have “social equity plans;” providing apprenticeship and workforce pipeline programs to ensure those from historically marginalized communities can get jobs in the industry; and proposing that 55% of the revenue generated from the sale of marijuana be spent social-equity efforts, 15% be allocated for grants for prevention and addiction recovery services, and 30% be sent to the general fund to cover administrative costs.
The amended proposal passed 22-16.
“There are people both in the legislature and outside the legislature who paid a lot of attention to this and have a lot of interest in the subject and have things that they want to see in this bill,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. “This conversation is far, far from over.”
Stafstrom acknowledged that there are other legislative committees whose domain and responsibilities center on the social-equity questions raised by marijuana legalization. But of particular interest to the Judiciary Committee are the pieces of the bill that would erase certain criminal convictions for marijuana possession.
“It is this committee’s cognizance as to whether this drug should be legal or not. And that is, I believe, the primary vote that we are taking as a Judiciary Committee here today, is whether to legalize cannabis or not,” Stafstrom said. “I would submit that that is long overdue in the state of Connecticut, for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is this is a drug that is widely believed to be less addictive and less harmful to the body than many other drugs that we already have legalized and regulate here in the state of Connecticut, including tobacco and alcohol.”
Republicans unanimously voted against the proposal, citing concerns over the impact of marijuana legalization on children and what they considered to be too-little funding for addition recovery services.
“I think that’s really low,” Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, said of the 15% of revenue the bill proposes giving to recovery efforts. “We’re introducing and we’re legalizing a drug into society, we’re saying that we’re going to regulate it, but really when you look at this whole bill, it really helps out the illicit market just as much as it legalizes.”
Others cited their obligations to the U.S. and state constitutions.
“I, in respect for the oath that I took as a state representative to uphold the federal and the state constitution, cannot find myself to be in support of this,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. “Currently, this product is illegal. It’s a controlled substance, under federal law.”
The measure that passed out of Judiciary on Tuesday is not the only bill before the legislature that would legalize cannabis. Another proposal passed out of the Labor and Public Employees Committee on March 25. That measure was praised repeatedly by progressives in the Feb. 28 public hearing on Lamont’s marijuana bill. Advocates claimed the governor’s bill did not go as far as the Labor Committee’s proposal in righting the wrongs of the war on drugs and ensuring racial equity, should marijuana be legalized in Connecticut.
Winfield is a co-sponsor on the Labor Committee bill, but he voted in favor of the governor’s bill Tuesday.
“We need a bill that passes through the Judiciary Committee that answers the question of legalization,” Winfield said. “And I think that if you are thinking that you want to do the equity pieces, then you need to have a legalized cannabis scheme here in the state of Connecticut.”