As more of its neighboring states move to legalize marijuana, Connecticut is increasingly likely to enact the reform itself, incoming House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said on Thursday. He put the chances of state lawmakers passing a legalization bill during next year’s legislative session at 50–50., and said that the body should hold a vote on the issue regardless of whether it has enough support to pass.
“It is now legal in New Jersey, New York is coming, and it’s legal in Massachusetts,” Ritter said at a virtual meeting hosted by a business organization. “Connecticut cannot fortify its border.”
Lawmakers in neighboring Rhode Island also recently took up a legalization bill there at a hearing this week, and top lawmakers in the state are preparing a push to end cannabis prohibition in 2021.
Connecticut residents—including people he knows personally—are already traveling to Massachusetts to buy legal marijuana and bringing it back to the state, Ritter said in his new comments.
“I have a lot of neighbors and friends that go to work every day who take care of their families,” the incoming speaker said. “They go to Northampton, they buy pot. They drive back, and they are still practicing responsible adults. You can’t just pretend that it’s not all around you and readily available.”
As for legalization in Connecticut, “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing this year,” he said, “and I think you should have a vote regardless.”
Ritter has been a vocal proponent of marijuana reform in Connecticut and said earlier this month that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” His remarks this week came during a meeting with the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, which was first reported by the Hartford Courant.
Watch the speaker’s marijuana comments, about 53:35 into the video below:
Sen. Kevin Kelly (R), the incoming Senate minority leader, also spoke at Thursday’s meeting. He said Connecticut doesn’t necessarily need to legalize simply because its neighbors are doing so.
“Just because other states do it doesn’t necessarily mean that Connecticut must do it,” he said. “I think we have to look at what our own people, what our own families want and what we hear from our constituents and decide whether or not this is something that, as a social policy, is good for our state and the youth of our state. Is it something that we want them to be engaging in and to be utilizing on a daily basis or more frequently than they’re allowed to?”
Recent studies indicate legalization has not caused an increase in teen marijuana use. A report from Colorado in August concluded that youth cannabis consumption “has not significantly changed since legalization” in 2012, while a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that same month found that marijuana use by high school students actually fell between 2013 and 2019. A report published just this week by the CDC found that teen marijuana treatment admissions fell sharply in states that had legalized.
Kelly, the Senate GOP leader, also noted at Thursday’s meeting that lawmakers in other states have been motivated to legalize marijuana in order to boost state revenue. Legal cannabis industries in some states have fueled billions in economic activity and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to state budgets.
Ritter, however, claimed not to care about revenue. Rather, he said he’s motivated more by a desire “to right historical wrongs,” citing his own observations of racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests.
“For too long, black and brown people in cities back in the ’80s and ’90s went to jail for marijuana offenses,” he said, while college students and suburban residents “smoke with impunity.”
“The expungement of those criminal violations is very important to me,” Ritter added.
Kelly acknowledged the issue cuts across party lines. “I really don’t think this is a Republican–Democrat, necessarily, view,” he said. “It’s more individualized than that. And it will depend upon where one’s perspective is and where they come in on legalization.”
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said earlier this month that legalizing marijuana could prevent the spread of COVID-19 by people traveling to neighboring states to buy marijuana. Officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic,” he said, “and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”
U.S. voters’ passage of every major state-level drug reform measure on the ballot on Election Day this month has already spurred action by officials and organizers in neighboring states, including New York, Rhode Island and others. In many states where cannabis was on the ballot, legalization got more votes than either Donald Trump’s or Joe Biden’s presidential bids.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment after Election Day that the overwhelming results are likely to encourage reform at the federal level.