The governor of Connecticut released a budget request on Wednesday that includes a plan to legalize marijuana. But while the proposal places an emphasis on social equity, advocates are expressing expressing concerns about the lack of specifics so far.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, said his budget plan will involve establishing a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”
“The proposal builds on the significant work that the Legislature has done on adult-use cannabis in recent sessions and ensures alignment with the approaches pursued by regional states,” a summary of the plan states.
During his budget speech, the governor noted that “our neighboring states are offering recreational marijuana on a legal and regulated basis,” and Connecticut is losing out on tax revenue that could be generated by following suit.
Watch Lamont discuss his cannabis legalization proposal below:
“Rather than surrender this market to out-of-staters, or worse, to the unregulated underground market, our budget provides for the legalization of recreational marijuana,” he said. “These additional revenues will go to distressed communities, which have been hardest hit by the war on drugs.”
The Lamont administration, which has recently been circulating a draft legalization bill for feedback, said in the written summary of the legalization proposal that it hopes Connecticut will become “the first state to create a truly equitable cannabis industry.”
But the details of how communities most impacted by the war on drugs could gain from the legal industry would be mostly determined after officials receive a report from a new equity commission.
“The commission will be given the important charge to develop guidelines and proposals regarding how individuals and neighborhoods that have been most affected by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition can benefit from the creation of a legal market,” the summary says.
Jason Ortiz, the Connecticut-based president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and a member of Lamont’s cannabis equity task force, told Marijuana Moment that the details of how the legal market is implemented will matter.
“The recommendations from the task force were clear and I’m hopeful the governor heard us, but saying you support equity is not the same as backing it up with systemic change and robust investment,” he said.
“I still think we have fundamental disagreements over what equity means but look forward to analyzing the details,” he said, adding that he plans to review “every line of this bill” and will work with lawmakers and stakeholders to make sure that “the final policy that passes in Connecticut puts equity first in language and in dollars.”
The Marijuana Policy Project’s DeVaughn Ward said the proposal “is a solid starting point to began negotiations with the legislature.”
“I’m encouraged to see the inclusion of an expungement provision, a micro-business and delivery license type, an equity applicant, and a sizable portion of the revenue directed towards equity and communities of color,” he told Marijuana Moment. “The governor’s proposal keeps me optimistic that consensus on this complex issue can be reached this year.”
In broad stokes, the summary of Lamont’s plan makes the case that the current approach to criminalizing marijuana has been a harmful failure.
“Cannabis prohibition has not worked,” the 10-page document says. “It has failed to protect public health and safety, and instead has caused significant injustices for many residents, especially people in black and brown communities because of enforcement laws.”
“With legal cannabis available, or soon to be in neighboring states, Governor Lamont has made the decision to introduce legislation that would create a legal market for cannabis in Connecticut that is well-regulated to protect consumers and the public at large, will reduce the size and influence of the black market, and prevent economic loss from residents crossing borders to neighboring states.”
-Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Homegrow would not be permitted, but penalties for personal cultivation would be reduced and the state Department of Consumer Protection would be charged with studying the policy. Possession of between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces would be an infraction, while possession above 2.5 ounces would be a class C misdemeanor. People under 21 who possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis would face infractions, not misdemeanors.
-Regulators would be responsible for approving licenses for “cultivators, retailers, hybrid medical/adult-use retailers, microcultivators, product manufacturers, food and beverage manufacturers, product packagers and delivery services.” In the initial stage, licenses will be approved via a lottery system. Existing medical cannabis businesses could convert to recreational “for a substantial fee.”
-Adult-use cannabis sales would launch in May 2022. A standard sales tax and an excise tax ($1.25 per gram of flower) would be imposed on marijuana sales. Local municipalities that allow cannabis businesses to operate in their areas would be able to impose an additional three percent tax.
-In fiscal year 2023, “an estimated $33.6 million in revenue will be generated from the cannabis market, growing to $97.0 million by FY 2026,” the summary says. Starting in fiscal year 2024, half of the excise tax revenue “will be intercepted for municipal aid and social equity.”
-Marijuana-related convictions from before October 2015 would be automatically expunged. “The legalization of cannabis possession and the erasure of prior convictions will help erase some of the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs on our state’s Black and brown communities,” the plan states.
-Law enforcement would not be able to conduct searches, stops or seizures based on the odor of cannabis, except in the context of impaired driving.
-People could not be denied professional licenses from the state because of their work in the cannabis industry or use of marijuana.
-To ensure that the program meets public safety standards, the governor is proposing to add 64 jobs to the consumer protection department. One unique component would involve having “secret shoppers” inspect cannabis businesses to ensure compliance.
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.
Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address last month, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.
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.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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A poll released last year found that nearly two-thirds of voters (63.4 percent) either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported recreational legalization.
Some lawmakers have already 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.
Sen. Douglas McCrory (D), cochair of the Education Committee, said in a recent interview that “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.”
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.
Read the summary of Lamont’s marijuana legalization plan below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill
The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.
His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.
I have filed #SAFEBanking as an amendment to #AmericaCOMPETES b/c cannabis-related businesses – big and small – are in desperate need of access to capital & the banking system in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner & compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) January 28, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”
It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.
The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.
Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures
Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.
This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.
“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.
A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”
While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.
The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.
“The higher the content of THC, the greater the likelihood that you will become addicted to the drug… The content of THC has gone up at least 4-fold.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.
The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.
That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.
“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.
Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.
“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”
The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.
She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”
However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.
“We need to provide them [addicts] with treatment, so just to say ok we are going to liberalize everything… and not support treatment for those people under those conditions, I actually think it is quite irresponsible.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.
She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.