The governor of Connecticut says he thinks the odds of his marijuana legalization bill passing this session are 60-40—and he’s not ruling out signing the legislation even if it’s amended to allow for home cultivation.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D) was asked about the prospects of his proposal advancing during an interview with WPLR on Monday. He said that while the issue has proven “surprisingly controversial” in the legislature—in part because lawmakers get “a little shaky” when they receive messages from opponents—”I think it’s going to pass.”
“We really give a lot of moms and dads comfort that it really leads again with public health,” the governor said of his cannabis measure, which he included as part of his budget last month. “We regulate how it’s distributed. We regulate what goes into it. We regulate the potency [and] make sure poisons can’t get into it. I think people feel more comfortable with our bill.”
The radio host replied that it “sounds like you wouldn’t be interested in the home growers part of it.” Lamont’s bill as introduced would continue to criminalize people who cultivate their own cannabis.
“Well, that’s so—only because every home grower grows their own thing and then they sell a little bit to their friends so you don’t know what’s in it,” Lamont said. “But, you know, I grew up in the 70s, so I also don’t see it at the end of the world so we’ll see where it ends up.”
Listen to the governor discuss his marijuana legalization bill, starting around 12:30 into the audio below:
One legalization advocate saw Lamont’s comments as an opening.
“I’m excited to work with the governor’s team to ensure homegrow is fairly and safely regulated,” Jason Ortiz, a drug policy advocate who served as chair of the governor’s cannabis licensing working group last year, told Marijuana Moment. “Homegrow can be kept away from children and safe as a tomato if done right.”
The lack of home growing rights is one of several provisions of the governor’s plan that advocates have identified as problematic as they push for reform legislation that more comprehensively addresses social equity.
Lamont was also asked about that component of his bill in the radio interview, specifically as it concerns social equity licensing to promote diverse participation in the cannabis market.
“Look, I think equity has got a big piece of this thing. Those underserved communities were a hit, hit hard. Now the question is, we provide money for those distressed communities—do you do it through the mayor’s office? Some people say, ‘I don’t like the mayor’s office,'” he said. “We provide startup monies for folks in those communities so they can start up their own businesses. I think the answer to that is, yes, but these are communities we’re going to pay special attention to.”
That response didn’t directly address the licensing question, however. The governor’s legislation would give existing medical marijuana dispensaries in the state a significant advantage, which could limit the ability of small businesses, and particularly people from communities most impacted by the drug war, to enter the industry.
“With homegrow in the bill I think the chances go from 60/40 to 80/20,” Ortiz told Marijuana Moment. “The last 20 percent will be about the final details on equity license set-asides. From there I think we got a winning bill.”
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Last month, an administration official stressed during a hearing that Lamont’s proposal it is “not a final bill,” and they want activists “at the table” to further inform the legislation.
As introduced, the governor’s bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and purchase products from licensed stores, which would be scheduled to open in May 2022. Certain marijuana-related convictions that occurred before October 2015 would be automatically expunged.
The state would bring in more than $33 million in revenue in fiscal year 2023, increasing to $97 million by 2026, according to a fiscal estimate. Starting in 2024, half of all the state excise tax would be earmarked for municipal aid and equity spending.
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.
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.
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.” The governor said in this latest interview that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”
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.
That would likely prove popular, as a survey released last week 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 Mike Latimer.