The governor of Connecticut is circulating a draft bill to legalize marijuana, soliciting feedback from state agencies as he prepares a push to enact the policy change this year.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D) reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address earlier this month, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.
“I am working with our neighboring states and look forward to working with our tribal partners on a path forward to modernize gaming in our state, as well as the legislature on legalization of marijuana,” he said at the time. “Sports betting, internet gaming and legalized marijuana are happening all around us. Let’s not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or, even worse, underground markets.”
The draft legislation, which was first reported by The CT Mirror, would establish a tax-and-regulate cannabis market in the state.
According to the outlet, wholesale marijuana flower would be taxed at $1.25 per gram under the proposal, while trimmed plants would be subject to a 50 cents tax per gram. The state’s 6.35 percent sales tax would be imposed on retail cannabis purchases, as well as a three percent surcharge, with revenue partly going to local jurisdictions.
It also provides for automatic expungements for people with prior low-level marijuana possession convictions from October 1, 2015 or earlier. For those convicted after that date, they will be able to petition the courts for relief.
Other provisions of the draft bill would restrict marketing to prevent appealing to youth, increasing law enforcement resources for drug recognition experts to identify impaired driving and incorporating cannabis smoking and vaping to the state’s indoor clear air laws.
The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. But while those stalled, there’s increased optimism that 2021 is the year for reform.
“I think it has extremely stronger prospects than it had in recent years,” Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D), cochair of the Public Health Committee, told CT Mirror.
It remains to be seen whether Lamont will include the proposal in his budget request, which is due next month.
While there seems to be notable interest in enacting the policy change within the legislature and governor’s office, certain lawmakers have made clear that they will not support legalization unless is adequately supports social equity and reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“Frosty the Snowman would have a better chance of passing summer school in hell than any piece of legislation in Connecticut if it doesn’t deal with equity, economics and the communities that have been targeted and devastated by this fake war on drugs,” Sen. Douglas McCrory (D), cochair of the Education Committee, told the local news outlet.
House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said in November that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” He added later that month that “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you should have a vote regardless.”
Should that effort fail, Ritter said he will move to put a constitutional question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters. A poll released last year found that nearly two-thirds of voters (63.4 percent) either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported recreational legalization.
The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”
He also said that legalization in Connecticut could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting out-of-state trips to purchase legal cannabis in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.