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Connecticut Governor’s Marijuana Task Force Issues Social Equity Recommendations For Legalization

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An informal task force formed by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has issued a series of recommendations on how to legalize marijuana with an eye toward social justice for communities most harmed by prohibition.

The group—which was comprised of about 20 lawmakers, advocates and community leaders—tackled two main sets of issues: those related to licensing and regulations, as well as community reinvestment. It was formed by the administration on a largely ad hoc basis in December and has stayed relatively under-the-radar in the weeks since.

“I think the overarching theme In the recommendations is the governor’s proposal needs to have strong equity provisions on the licensing side and on the back end, specifically a significant portion of the revenue going to communities hard hit by the war on drugs,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

There was a recognition among task force members that there was a “lack of diversity and inclusion in the current medical market,” he said. “Without those two things, the governor’s [adult-use legalization] bill will have a really hard time gaining traction from progressive legislators, urban legislators and legislators of color, all which make up a large chunk of the Democratic majorities in both chambers.”

Here are some of the key recommendations to come out of the task force: 

-Social equity licenses should go to businesses that have at least 67 percent ownership by individuals who meet at least two criteria: 1) those who have been arrested over a cannabis-related offense, 2) those with an immediate family member who has been arrested over marijuana, 3) those with an annual income lower than 150 percent of the median wage or 4) those from communities most harmed by prohibition as dictated by an equity study.

-A capital fund for zero-interest loans should be established and made available for equity operators.

-Equity licenses should match traditional licenses in the state “at each part of the supply chain.”

-If medical cannabis dispensaries are prioritized for adult-use licenses, equity applicants should also get licensing priority for microcultivator, delivery and transportation businesses.

-Each marijuana company must “implement policies that encourage diversity in employment, contracting and other professional opportunities.”

These recommendations come as the governor 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.

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.

Under the governor’s draft proposal, 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.

It’s not clear how much the informal proposal will change in light of the task force’s recommendations and other feedback from lawmakers and stakeholders by the time Lamont formally issues his legalization plan, which could be attached to a budget he will release on Wednesday.

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.

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.

Certain 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 full list of recommendations from the governor’s informal marijuana equity task force below: 

1. Equity applicants are defined as businesses which are owned 67%or more by individuals who meet (two) of the following:

-Personally been arrested convicted or incarcerated for a cannabis crime

-Has an immediate family member(Parent or sibling) who has been arrested convicted or incarcerated for a cannabis crime

-Has an average annual income not more than 150% of median wage

-Is of a group disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition as determined by the equity study

2. Establish a study commission (DCP or indy) to oversee an impact study that will quantify the various negative repercussions of cannabis prohibition and submit a full report by Jan 1 2022. This report will inform the governing body that will determine the number of licenses to be awarded and the qualifications and benefits for each license type.

-Study commission will research how to create an equitable cannabis industry as it’s #1 priority, not maximizing revenue or speed of opening

-Study shall include specific recommendations on year 1, 5, and year 10 needs

-Appropriate checks and balances needed to ensure plenty of opportunities for course correction

3. The ratio of equity licenses to traditional must be at least 1 to 1 at each part of the supply chain

-Oakland and Boston model

-This will require the licensing of a significant number of equity businesses to bring the current ratio to 1 to 1 before sales can begin

4. Establish a capital fund for zero interest loans for certified equity operators

-All grantees must complete a “entrepreneurship in the cannabis industry” course/training]

5. Establish a workforce development program in cooperation with equity owners to provide owners and employees with technical support including but not limited to creation of SOPs, commercial buildout plans, legal assistance with real estate, permitting and zoning, human resources and payroll processing, and tax compliance.

6. Independence of equity commission should be encouraged as much as is possible

-Majority of votes on the commission should be non-regulatory agency appointments(?)

-Mix of stakeholders and regulators on commission

-Citizen’s ethics advisory board is an example

7. Develop a license type(s) specifically for equity applicants, if medical is given head start.

-Micro

-Delivery

-Transport

8. Require each cannabis business to include a social equity impact plan to be considered by in granting and renewal of license. Require each cannabis business to implement policies that encourage diversity in employment, contracting, and other professional opportunities and to report annually on the diversity of its workforce, management, and contracts.

-First mover advantage only able after funding given for economic uplift program

Read additional notes from the task force’s Community Economic Development Grant Revenue subgroup:

-We did not come up with a comprehensive definition of equity and instead decided to utilize the disparity study to help inform our work once its completed.

-We discussed the potential structure of an Equity Commission, including membership, oversight/responsibilities, appointments, and relationship with regulatory agency but made no final decisions.

-We determined that some independence from the state would be recommended so progress is not disrupted when new administrations are elected.

-We discussed the need to focus some funding into infrastructure projects for a community, meaning that we would attempt to create systemic change while investing into communities that have been traditionally disinvested in for many years.

-It was unanimously agreed that members of the community must have a voice in the process and that the commission needed to cultivate a space to allow those voices to be elevated.

-We discussed using indicators to determine need, an example of this could be income level, graduation rates, or arrests.

-Funding could be made available through targeted grants, but we would need to provide support systems to ensure organizations who may not have the capacity to manage/apply for the grants could still take advantage of the funding especially if they have been doing this work for years.

-Specific to funding, we agreed that after operational costs are deducted from excise tax revenue we would allocate 90% of left over revenue to community investment, 5% to the general fund, and 5% to drug education, treatment, counseling etc.

-It was also agreed that the larger group would help us determine a more specific breakdown of that 90% community investment allocation.

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Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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