Legislative committee leaders in Connecticut announced a new plan on Thursday to legalize recreational access to marijuana in the state. Instead of releasing one comprehensive bill that proposes a new system to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis sales for adults, legislators moved to file several related pieces of legislation.
“Legalizing a substance that has been illegal for more than 80 years is a complicated process,” Rep. Michael D’Agostino, co-chair of the General Law Committee, said during a press conference. “And the way we approached it this year was to divide this process into three main areas: regulation, decriminalization and monetization.”
Each area will be considered by the relevant committee—General Law, Judiciary and Finance.
“Because of the procedure in the legislature, we could not just have one bill,” D’Agostino said.
Several of the new bills come from the Judiciary Committee, touching on aspects of legalization as well as driving under the influence. The main one, said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, co-chair of the panel, legalizes up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older. It also includes a process for the erasure of past convictions.
Another from the General Law Committee deals with the potential regulatory structure for the legalization of cannabis sales.
“A large part of this bill [coming out of General Law] is ensuring that there’s equity moving forward,” said Rep. Josh Elliot. “There’s the financial component, but there’s also the recognizing who has been affected by the war on drugs component as well. A large part of what’s coming out today is representative of the fact that we want to be acknowledging what sort of damage this has done to communities around Connecticut and around the country.”
One way lawmakers plan to ensure those from marginalized communities who have largely been left behind in the national legalization movement is to prioritize license applicants from those communities.
“At each level … we are embedding in this proposed bill various components to address what we call broadly ‘equity,'” said D’Agostino. “Equity applicants—people from areas disproportionately impacted by the drugs wars, people with prior convictions for possession—will have an advantage and will be able to seek licenses three months in advance of anyone else, except for the existing cultivators and distribution facilities for our medical marijuana program.”
Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that he’s cautiously optimistic, based on comments from today’s announcement.
“Specifically that they would head-start equity applicants—I think that’s something that hasn’t been done before on a statewide level,” he said. “So we’re really making some progressive history here in Connecticut, if what they say is what we see in the language. But I haven’t seen the bill yet.”
Ortiz also noted that lawmakers at the press conference used language from his organization’s resource materials for prioritizing equity in the cannabis space. “It’s clear that our message was heard loud and clear,” he said.
Public hearings for the new legislation are scheduled for next Friday. “This is just the start of the process,” D’Agostino said.
Legalization in Connecticut has the support of a number of key figures in the state, including Gov. Ned Lamont, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney. (Looney introduced his own legalization bill in January.) Separate legalization legislation filed in the House in January had more than a quarter of the chamber’s members signed on as initial cosponsors.
“It will pass in Connecticut,” Gov. Lamont said last month at a conference. “Why do you hand this over to the black market? I think that’s one of the dumbest things we can do.”