A Connecticut House committee on Thursday approved a bill to legalize marijuana, a notable development as lawmakers work to reconcile what they’re proposing with the governor’s reform plan.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Robyn Porter (D), cleared the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee in a 9-4 vote. Advocates have cheered the bill’s emphasis on social equity in the industry, and there’s optimism its language could be incorporated into Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) legalization proposal, which they have said is inadequate as introduced.
Porter, who chairs the labor panel, said ending cannabis prohibition is “needed because of the disproportionate impact and damage that it has done to black and brown and poor communities, and it does need to be regulated in a way that provides equity to those who have been harmed the most.”
“The train has left the station, and I feel like Connecticut is actually playing catch up,” she said. “Our surrounding states are on board, and there are states across this nation that have done it already.”
Unlike the governor’s plan, this piece of legislation, which was amended in committee, would allow home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants and would license social consumption sites. It also includes additional language on cannabis gifting and social equity applicants.
The amendment adds provisions from Lamont’s bill concerning roadside testing for impairment, and it specifies 12 jurisdictions in the state where businesses would be eligible for exclusive access to community reinvestment funding for the first five years of implementation.
“We are overjoyed to see an equity-centered legalization bill pass with the support of so many communities,” 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. “Our bill is closely aligned with what we are seeing out of New York, and we are ready to get this bill a floor vote so we can finally end this war on our communities.”
DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, also cheered the bill’s passage.
“It’s welcomed news that legislation that compliments the governor’s opening proposal has advanced in the Connecticut legislature,” he said. “Cannabis prohibition has been a failed policy that has caused significant damage to communities of color in Connecticut.”
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“HB 6377 is a step forward towards providing restorative justice to those impacted communities,” Ward added. “It’s my hope the concepts outlined in HB 6377 are incorporated into the final legislation.”
Porter said in a press release after the vote that this “is an historic day for those who believe economic justice is a foundational pillar of our community and the future cannabis industry.”
“Cannabis legalization will bring high paying union jobs, community investment and economic opportunity to our communities of color, but only if we do it right by starting with equity on day one,” she said.
For his part, Lamont, who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, said his budget plan involves establishing a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”
House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said last week 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 House and Senate to go through the governor’s proposal and the committee-approved reform bill.
“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.”
Last month, 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 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 poll 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.
Read the amended marijuana legalization bill that was approved in committee below: