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Connecticut Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Will Be Decided By Voters If Lawmakers Fail To Enact Reform

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The governor of Connecticut said on Wednesday that if lawmakers fail to pass a marijuana legalization bill, he expects voters to decide on the issue via referendum.

Gov. Ned Lamont (D) was asked about the status of cannabis reform in Connecticut at a press conference, and he noted that a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use that he’s backing cleared the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday after being amended by the panel. That said, as was made clear by lawmakers at that hearing, the governor said the legislation as it currently stands is not the final product.

“I think there’s going to be a couple of more iterations on this,” Lamont said.

Watch the governor talk about marijuana policy in Connecticut in the video below, starting around 42:50: 

Considering that cannabis is legal in Massachusetts and was recently legalized in New York, Lamont said, “it’s time for Connecticut to do this on a very regulated basis. Otherwise I don’t want to also surrender it to the underground market, which is really dangerous.”

Legislators now have “their fingerprints” on the reform proposal and still need to reach an agreement on provisions such as how to allocate tax revenue in an equitable way, so “it’s going to take a couple more loops, but I think we’ll get it done.”

If lawmakers don’t in fact get it done, the governor said, he anticipates the question of legalization will go to voters.

“Marijuana is sort of interesting to me. When it goes to a vote of the people through some sort of a referendum, it passes overwhelmingly. When it goes through a legislature and a lot of telephone calls are made, it’s slim or doesn’t pass,” Lamont said. “We’re trying to do it through the legislature. Folks are elected to make a decision, and we’ll see where it goes. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably end up in a referendum.”

House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.

That would likely prove popular, as a poll released last month found that 66 percent of Connecticut adults favor legalization, and the same percentage of respondents back expunging prior cannabis records.

The governor’s bill to end prohibition isn’t the only reform proposal under consideration in Connecticut. A competing measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D) was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee last month.

Lamont, who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, initially described his legalization plan as a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”

Equity advocates have been critical of the provisions of Lamont’s initial proposal as included in his budget. And while they support many of the changes made by the Judiciary Committee earlier this week, they say more work is needed.

Ritter said last month that “optimism abounds” as lawmakers work to merge proposals into a final legalization bill.

Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) said “in principle, equity is important to both the administration and the legislature, and we’re going to work through those details.”

To that end, the majority leader said that working groups have been formed in the Democratic caucuses of the legislature to go through the governor’s proposal and the other committee-approved reform bill.

In February, a Lamont administration official stressed during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that Lamont’s proposal it is “not a final bill,” and they want activists “at the table” to further inform the legislation.

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. Those bills stalled, however.

Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.

Ritter 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.” The governor said in an interview earlier this year that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”

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.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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