Gov. Ned Lamont signs the cannabis legalization bill into law. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Connecticut’s governor and majority-party legislative leaders were proud and self-congratulatory on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, at the signing of SB1201, the recreational marijuana bill.  The governor boasted that “… all of us here… place a premium on public health… and public safety… this is a bill that prioritizes that….”

Majority Leader Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford) stated, “I think it’ll be the most comprehensive and best cannabis legalization bill in the country … I feel confident in saying yes, right now, this is the best bill in the country and it’s going to move us in a direction of ensuring that we provide a well-regulated marketplace for adult-use cannabis….”

To the governor and those legislative leaders: this bill is a disaster.

I am aware of other states’ recreational marijuana bills; as bad as they are, they are better than Connecticut’s.  At least their bills included some type of tracking data on the impacts that recreational marijuana has on their states.  Connecticut did not.

I consulted a juvenile prosecutor, who gave me his impressions:  How will a police officer know if a juvenile has had a prior marijuana possession charge, especially if the juvenile is from a town/city other than where they are found to be in possession of marijuana? If a juvenile gets caught with marijuana in Hartford and gets a written warning, and then gets caught with marijuana in another town, how will that town’s police know about the prior Hartford offense? As far as they know, it is his first offense. There is no central database of juvenile arrests as there is for adults. Since the first and second offenses will not be referred to court, the juvenile court will not know about any previous offenses.  So much for the protection of our youth.

Another problem: the bill states that possession of five ounces or more is a delinquency matter and would be referred to court, but line 321 of the bill states, “No person may be arrested for a violation of this subsection.”  What is meant by “arrested?” A referral to a court to answer to the charges and a possible court-imposed sanction is an “arrest.”

If a police officer observes a driver in their car drinking a beer, or stops them and smells alcohol, the officer can use their observations for probable cause to make an arrest and/or search the vehicle.  Under SB1201, even though “A person is guilty of smoking, otherwise inhaling or ingesting cannabis,…while operating a motor vehicle….”, if an officer sees a driver smoking marijuana or stops a car and smells marijuana, the officer cannot use that for probable cause.

In states that have legalized marijuana, data shows that motor vehicle deaths where marijuana was detected have increased by up to 100%.  SB1201 prevents that detection.  There is no definitive test to detect a marijuana-impaired driver in the United States or any country.  So much for public safety and preventing driving while impaired.

The Connecticut State Medical Society, by its President, Dr. Gregory Shangold, issued the following statement: “The Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS) is deeply disappointed that legislation allowing the recreational use of marijuana is being signed into law by Governor Lamont today. Physicians base our opinions on science, data from peer-reviewed writings, observation, and patient interaction – which is why we believe the recreational use of marijuana is bad science, bad policy, and dangerous to Connecticut’s public health. Throughout this debate, we have worked to inform Connecticut’s policymakers about the health and social ramifications of legalized marijuana, urging them not to ignore the harmful, even devastating effects that this measure will have – especially on our younger populations. The signing of this public act, together with the failure of our legislature to ban flavored tobacco products, leaves tens of thousands of children, adolescents and young adults at risk in our state.”

Dr. Shangold subsequently added that there are “more effective ways” to combat racial disparities than legalizing cannabis. So much for public health and following the science.

This bill caps the THC potency at 30% (flower/plant material) or 60% (products other than flower/plant material). Those are dangerous percentages – that’s 10-20 times the potency of marijuana of the 1960’s and 1970’s!

The Colorado Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Department of Medicine in Denver, used portable data recording equipment to conduct tests at 24 indoor Marijuana Grow Operations (MGO’s). They found significant air quality hazards that affect individuals working inside MGO’s, as well as environmental impacts, which confirmed previous concerns – e.g., pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, rodenticides, massive water consumption, enormous electric consumption, release of excessive carbon dioxide, release of heavy metals into the soil, insecticides used on marijuana, mold from high humidity, etc.  SB1201 has no environmental or air quality safeguards to prevent hazardous working conditions or environmental damage from marijuana growing operations. Connecticut’s lawmakers want to tax our gasoline and gas-powered cars – and try to limit our car use to reduce pollution – but they give a free pass to marijuana growing operations. So much for the environment.

State Sen. Gary Winfield said he would listen to any concerns and address them. Well, sir, this information was provided to the legislature – on multiple occasions, by multiple individuals and organizations – and the legislature failed to address any of them.

To the news media: you are complicit, by predominantly reporting what was fed to you, virtually without question.

The pro-marijuana majority party – along with lobbyists and those who stand to profit – have won a significant victory.  Our children, who will be impacted, LOST. Connecticut’s employers, who must now deal with marijuana-related employment issues, LOST. Public health and public safety in all of our communities, LOST.

William Butka is a retired Connecticut police officer and Editor in Chief of The Coalition, the official magazine of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition.