A governor-backed marijuana legalization bill was introduced by Connecticut’s top lawmakers on Thursday.
The “Governor’s Bill,” filed by Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D) and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D), would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one and a half ounces of cannabis from a licensed retailer.
The legislation’s introduction comes one day after Gov. Ned Lamont (D) renewed his call for marijuana legalization during his State of the State address and proposed a budget that includes funding to hire government employees to help establish a regulatory framework for cannabis.
There are several social equity provisions contained in the new legislation. It provides a pathway for individuals with prior cannabis convictions to have their records expunged, explicitly allows those with past convictions to participate in the industry and creates an equity application to support businesses operated by people from communities most harmed by the drug war.
Additionally, the 108-page bill would establish a nine-member “Cannabis Equity Commission” that would be tasked with promoting and encouraging “participation in the cannabis industry by persons from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.”
The commission would be required to make recommendations on restorative justice policies by January 1, 2021, and would establish micro-licenses for cannabis retail and delivery operations.
“It’s clear this bill is intended to incorporate all the stakeholder feedback of last session to produce a robust plan of action and for that we applaud the governor,” Jason Ortiz, the Connecticut-based president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment. “Where we see room for improvement is on the criminal justice provisions which must address releasing those currently incarcerated and providing re-entry services and economic opportunities for our returning friends and family members.”
There would be a three percent tax on retail marijuana sales. Retailers and manufacturers would be taxed $1.25 per dry weight gram of cannabis flower. Part of the tax revenue would go toward communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Most employers would be prohibited from requiring a drug test for THC as a condition of employment, and they couldn’t otherwise discriminate against workers who use marijuana outside of the workplace.
Individual municipalities would be allowed to prohibit marijuana retail shops or “establish reasonable restrictions regarding the hours and signage” for those businesses, but they would not be able to bar delivery services from operating in their jurisdictions.
Regulators would be responsible for considering and making recommendations to lawmakers on a variety of cannabis policies. Among other issues, they would have to weigh in on whether adults should be able to cultivate marijuana for personal use, whether to allow on-site consumption or provide licenses for social consumption facilities and whether to “permit the establishment of state-run retailers.”
The state banking and insurance commissioners would be directed to report on cannabis business issues within their respective purviews by January 2021.
Existing registration fees for medical cannabis patients would be eliminated under the measure.
“2020 is already proving to be our best chance yet at getting a legalization bill through the legislature,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project Recent, told Marijuana Moment. “Recent polls have made it clear that Connecticuters support legalization. It is time for lawmakers to listen to the will of their constituents and end the decades-old policy failure of marijuana prohibition.”
The bill, which has been referred to the Joint Judiciary Committee, also lays out a variety of restrictions and penalties. For example, possessing more than the allowable amount but less than two ounces is punishable by a $150 fine for the first offense and between $200 and $500 for subsequent offenses.
There are multiple pages outlining protocol for identifying and prosecuting individuals for impaired driving.
The legislation contains restrictions on advertising and marketing, and it requires cannabis products to have warning labels.
While there are still areas to be worked out through regulators, the bill reflects a months-long effort to develop a cannabis system that promotes public health, equity and ensuring that residents stay in the state to purchase cannabis products. Lamont met with governors from neighboring states in December, and they agreed to basic principles of a regulated marijuana market across their jurisdictions.
Leading lawmakers in the Connecticut have said last month that they’re prioritizing legalization as part of the legislature’s 2020 agenda.
Also on Thursday, a separate governor-backed bill was introduced that deals directly with expungements.
This story has been updated with more details from the legislation and to include comment from the Marijuana Policy Project.