Facing a tight deadline, a top Connecticut lawmaker said on Tuesday that a bill to legalize marijuana may be taken up in a special session after the legislature completes its regular business for the year.
With the June 9 end of the legislative session less than a month away, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) was asked about the prospects of passing legislation to end cannabis criminalization in 2021—and he said lawmakers have been having “great conversations” with Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) administration as they work through competing reform proposals.
“It’s just one of those issues that we’re working through some of the details that were of concern to everyone over the past couple months, but we’re making progress,” Rojas told a reporter from CT News Junkie during a press conference.
House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) chimed in to say that “if we can find a path to a deal, it’s the kind of thing that I think you could always go into overtime if you had to,” adding that “we’d all be comfortable coming to special session for that issue.”
Watch the Connecticut lawmakers discuss marijuana legalization, starting around 24:40 into the video below:
But while some progress has been made in reconciling competing reform proposals from the governor and the legislature, it’s not clear how close lawmakers are to reaching a deal and moving a proposal to floor votes—and Lamont is still waiting to review updated legalization legislation that’s in the process of being drafted, he said on Monday.
“I can tell you that [administration staff has] put together a very complete law for consideration by the legislature,” the governor said, referring to his own legalization proposal. “It’s sitting on their desk, and we’re ready for some decisions.”
Lamont’s chief of staff added that administration officials have been “meeting with legislative negotiators,” and they’re “waiting for them to provide us a revised draft” of a reform bill.
A bill to legalize marijuana for adult use that the governor is backing cleared the Judiciary Committee last month after being amended by the panel. But if a legalization measure isn’t enacted this year, Lamont said that he anticipates that the issue could go before voters.
“Marijuana is sort of interesting to me. When it goes to a vote of the people through some sort of a referendum, it passes overwhelmingly. When it goes through a legislature and a lot of telephone calls are made, it’s slim or doesn’t pass,” Lamont said. “We’re trying to do it through the legislature. Folks are elected to make a decision, and we’ll see where it goes. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably end up in a referendum.”
Ritter similarly said last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.
A competing legalization measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D), which is favored by many legalization advocates for its focus on social equity, was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee in March.
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A survey from Sacred Heart University (SHU) that was released last month found that about 66 percent of people in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, while 27 percent are opposed.
Lamont, who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, initially described his legalization plan as a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”
But while advocates have strongly criticized the governor’s plan as inadequate when it comes to equity provisions, Ritter said in March that “optimism abounds” as lawmakers work to merge proposals into a final legalization bill.
Rojas also said 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 legislature to go through the governor’s proposal and the committee-approved reform bill.
In February, 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 year that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”
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.