“Optimism abounds” as Connecticut lawmakers work to advance a bill to legalize marijuana, House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said on Tuesday.
Ritter made the comment during a virtual press briefing alongside Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) and Judiciary Co-chair Steven Stafstrom (D) after the lawmakers were asked about the state of negotiations in the legislature to reconcile various pieces of cannabis legislation, including a plan put forward by Gov. Ned Lamont (D) last month.
Rojas said he “wouldn’t say we’re close, but we’re not far off either,” adding that “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 House and Senate to go through the governor’s proposal and a separate legalization bill introduced in the House Labor and Public Employees Committee last month.
“We’ve seen just a lot of alignment with both. I don’t think we’re far off,” Rojas said. He added that he’s pleased these conversations are taking place in March—rather than later this spring toward the end of the session—so that lawmakers can “get to a place where we can get something that’s acceptable to a majority of the legislature for passage.”
Watch the lawmakers discuss plans to pass a marijuana legalization bill, starting around 20:46 into the video below:
Stafstrom, meanwhile, said Lamont’s proposal remains in his panel’s jurisdiction and it’s “a lot further long drafted and a lot more comprehensive than any proposal that’s been before the Judiciary Committee before when it comes to the issues of criminal justice and comes to issues of legalization and driving protections, workplace protections—those types of matters.”
“There has been a steady progression over several years, and the bill is a more complete product in its current form than what has been voted out of the Judiciary Committee in years past,” he said.
That’s when Ritter jumped in to note the overall optimism about enacting the policy change.
But Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association who served as chair of the governor’s cannabis licensing working group last year, told Marijuana Moment that optimism itself “isn’t a plan.”
“But I’m encouraged that leadership is taking the issue seriously and making it a priority,” he said. “We’re in the endgame now.”
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Last month, an administration official stressed during a hearing in Stafstrom’s 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 month that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”
Should that effort fail, the speaker said he will move to put a constitutional question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.
That would likely prove popular, as a survey released this month found that 66 percent of Connecticut adults favor legalization, and the same percentage of respondents back expunging prior cannabis records.
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 Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.