Connecticut Governor Will Sign Marijuana Legalization Bill Tuesday, But Concedes There’s Still Work To Be Done
The governor of Connecticut will sign a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana on Tuesday, with a small ceremony planned to mark the historic occasion.
But while Gov. Ned Lamont (D) is celebrating the enactment of the legislation, a top staffer said in an email to equity advocates on Friday that there’s “still much work to be done” to ensure that the law upholds principles of social justice and ensures that disproportionately impacted communities are empowered to participate in the industry.
The signing ceremony will involve “legislative leaders and those most involved in the final negotiations,” the email from senior Lamont advisor Jonathan Harris, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, says.
Separately on Monday, the governor told reporters at a press conference that he plans to sign the cannabis legislation on Tuesday.
NEW: @GovNedLamont says he will sign the cannabis legalization bill tomorrow in a public signing ceremony pic.twitter.com/rkO251hsOK
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 21, 2021
He also said last week that he’s actually open to using marijuana himself once the policy change is enacted.
Due to ongoing restrictions at the Capitol, Tuesday’s event will be smaller than the administration would’ve wanted. But it does say that in the coming weeks there will be “additional events that will include other stakeholders, celebrating milestones on the implementation of the comprehensive framework to regulate the adult use of cannabis safely and equitably.”
The signing will come just days after the legislature sent the legalization bill to Lamont’s desk—a victory for advocates that is the result of extensive negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders.
“As we discussed and all agreed, we needed to do better on the critical issue of social equity and had the short timeline of the upcoming session working against us,” Harris’s message says. “Together, we did make improvements and got a bill passed, that while not perfect (few if any are), is comprehensive and prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice and equity.”
To that point, Lamont at one point threatened to veto the bill because of a provision he said could undermine the intent to effectively repair harms in disparately impacted communities by allowing anyone who has been arrested or convicted of a marijuana offense to qualify as an equity applicant. But some advocates pushed back on the governor’s criticism, saying that people who have been busted under prohibition are by definition those who have been most impacted by it—just one example of tensions that developed between the governor’s office and the equity working group he convened to advise on cannabis legislation.
After Lamont signs the bill, possession of marijuana by adults 21 and older will become legal on July 1. Commercial cannabis sales could begin as soon as next May, but the bill does not specify an exact start date.
Connecticut is the fourth state to legalize cannabis for adult use this year alone. It followed New York, Virginia and New Mexico.
The bill, SB 1201, was introduced by House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) and Senate President Martin Looney (D).
Here are some key details of the legalization law:
- It would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis starting on July 1 and establish a retail market. Legislative leaders anticipate sales would launch in May 2022.
- Regulators with the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would be responsible for issuing licenses for growers, retailers, manufacturers and delivery services. Social equity applicants would be entitled to half of those licenses.
- Equity applicants could also qualify for technical assistance, workforce training and funding to cover startup costs.
- A significant amount of tax revenue from cannabis sales would go toward broader community reinvestment targeting areas most affected by the criminal drug war.
- Home cultivation would be permitted—first for medical marijuana patients and later for adult-use consumers.
- Most criminal convictions for possession of less than four ounces of cannabis would be automatically expunged beginning in 2023.
- Beginning July 1, 2022, individuals could petition to have other cannabis convictions erased, such as for possession of marijuana paraphernalia or the sale of small amounts of cannabis.
- The smell of cannabis alone would no longer be a legal basis for law enforcement to stop and search individuals, nor would suspected possession of up to five ounces of marijuana.
- Absent federal restrictions, employers would not be able to take adverse actions against workers merely for testing positive for cannabis metabolites.
- Rental tenants, students at institutions of higher learning, and professionals in licensed occupations would be protected from certain types of discrimination around legal cannabis use. People who test positive for cannabis metabolites, which suggest past use, could not be denied organ transplants or other medical care, educational opportunities or have action taken against them by the Department of Children and Families without another evidence-based reason for the action.
- Cannabis-related advertising could not target people under 21, and businesses that allow minors on their premises would be penalized. Products designed to appeal to children would be forbidden.
- Licensees who sell to minors would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. People in charge of households or private properties who allow minors to possess cannabis there could also face a Class A misdemeanor.
- Adults 18 to 20 years old who are caught with small amounts cannabis would be subject to a $50 civil fine, although subsequent violations could carry a $150 fine and/or mandatory community service. All possession offenses would require individuals to sign a statement acknowledging the health risks of cannabis to young people.
- Minors under 18 could not be arrested for simple cannabis possession. A first offense would carry a written warning and possible referral to youth services, while a third or subsequent offense, or possession of more than five ounces of marijuana, would send the individual to juvenile court.
- Local governments could prohibit cannabis businesses or ban cannabis delivery within their jurisdictions. Municipalities could also set reasonable limits on the number of licensed businesses, their locations, operating hours and signage.
- Municipalities with more than 50,000 residents would need to provide a designated area for public cannabis consumption.
- Until June 30, 2024, the number of licensed cannabis retailers could not exceed one per 25,000 residents. After that, state regulators will set a new maximum.
- Cannabis products would be capped at 30 percent THC by weight for cannabis flower and all other products except pre-filled vape cartridges at 60 percent THC, though those limits could be further adjusted by regulators. Medical marijuana products would be exempt from the potency caps. Retailers would also need to provide access to low-THC and high-CBD products.
- The state’s general sales tax of 6.35 percent would apply to cannabis, and an additional excise tax based on THC content would be imposed. The bill also authorizes a 3 percent municipal tax, which must be used for community reinvestment.
- Existing medical marijuana dispensaries could become “hybrid retailers” to also serve adult-use consumers. Regulators would begin accepting applications for hybrid permits in September 2021, and applicants would need to submit a conversion plan and pay a $1 million fee. That fee could be cut in half if they create a so-called equity joint venture, which would need to be majority owned by a social equity applicant. Medical marijuana growers could also begin cultivating adult-use cannabis in the second half this year, though they would need to pay a fee of up to $3 million.
- Licensing fees for social equity applicants would be 50 percent of open licensing fees. Applicants would need to pay a small fee to enter a lottery, then a larger fee if they’re granted a license. Social equity licensees would also receive a 50 percent discount on license fees for the first three years of renewals.
- The state would be allowed to enter into cannabis-related agreements with tribal governments, such as the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the Mohegan Tribe of Indians.
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The governor separately signed legislation this month that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Despite his temporary threat on the cannabis, Lamont has been broadly supportive of legalization, and he said that if a measure wasn’t enacted this year, the issue could ultimately go before voters.
According to recent polling, if legalization did go before voters, it would pass. Sixty-four percent of residents in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, according to a survey from Sacred Heart University released last month.
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.
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.”
Meanwhile in neighboring Rhode Island, a legislative committee recently approved a marijuana legalization bill backed by Senate leadership in that state.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.