Today the Connecticut Senate passed a measure to legalize cannabis for recreational use by adults. It’s now on the desk of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont who has already pledged to sign it — but only after threatening a veto just days earlier. If and when he does put his pen to the legislative paper, Connecticut would become the 19th state to legalize marijuana for adults and the fourth state to do so this year, following New Mexico, New York and Virginia.
Democratic state Sen. Gary Winfield, one of the bill’s sponsors, noted before the final vote that it came on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the ‘war on drugs,’ which the senator said damaged communities which now stand to benefit from equity-focused marijuana legalization.
“We have operated for 50 years with unjust laws that target certain communities,” Winfield said. “We have damaged the lives of human beings in the United States of America who are a certain hue, because of politics.”
In a statement after the vote, Lamont called it “fitting” for the move to come on the anniversary.
“The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety,” the governor said. “I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”
The bill was the result of negotiations among lawmakers and advocates to provide a safe and equitable industry. The state House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 76-62 Wednesday. Then today, the Senate voted 16-11 and sent it to the governor.
At one point Lamont threatened to veto the whole thing over a specific provision on equity licensing eligibility.
The House had amended the version adopted by the Senate a day earlier to remove the controversial language, necessitating the final Senate vote on concurrence (or agreeing to the new House version).
When — or technically, if — Lamont signs the bill into law, possession of marijuana by adults 21 and older will become legal on July 1. Commercial cannabis sales could begin as soon as May of next year, but no start date was announced.
On Tuesday, the Senate adopted an amendment allowing people with past cannabis arrests and convictions — as well as their parents, children and spouses — to qualify for social equity status when applying for marijuana business licenses. An earlier version of the bill limited eligibility only to people who reside in areas disproportionately affected by drug convictions and arrests.
Half of all business licenses under the new system would need to be issued to social equity applicants. While the provision was intended to help redress harms caused by the ‘war on drugs, Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds Jr., said in a statement it would “open the floodgates for tens of thousands of previously ineligible applicants to enter the adult-use cannabis industry.”
Anyone arrested on a simple possession charge would have the same chance “as someone from a neighborhood who has seen many of their friends and loved ones face significant penalties and discrimination due to their past cannabis crimes,” the statement said.
A second Senate amendment, which reportedly was introduced to address the governor’s stated concerns, clarified that anyone whose income is more than three times the state’s median income — regardless of criminal record or place of residence — could not qualify for social equity status. But on Wednesday morning, Lamont again said he wouldn’t sign the bill.
House lawmakers rejected both Senate-approved amendments, essentially returning the bill to the form in which it was originally introduced on Monday, with one major change.
After stripping the Senate changes, House lawmakers added back in a Senate-passed provision that bars legislators, statewide elected officials, cannabis regulators and members of the social equity board from participating in the cannabis industry for two years after leaving government. The restriction was introduced in response to Republican concerns the legalization would otherwise create opportunities for officials to benefit themselves by entering an industry they previously influenced.
Much of the bill resembles a legalization measure that passed the Senate last week. It went on to stall on the House floor during the final hours of the regular session. The measure was pitched by Democratic legislative leaders as a compromise incorporating elements of both Lamont’s own legalization proposal, which advanced through two legislative committees this year, as well as an equity-focused legalization bill by Democratic Rep. Robyn Porter.
The current bill, SB 1201, was originally introduced Monday by Democratic House Speaker Matt Ritter and Senate President Martin Looney.
“Connecticut is on the cusp of becoming the latest state to legalize cannabis. This year has shown us that state legislatures are capable of rising to the challenge to end cannabis prohibition.”Karen O’Keefe
“A supermajority of Americans have made it clear that they favor a system of legalization and regulation rather than the status quo. This victory will add to the momentum towards cannabis policy reform in other states and at the federal level,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement.
Under the bill, persons with convictions for cannabis possession from January 1, 2000 through September 30, 2015 will have their records automatically expunged. Persons with convictions for possession and sales of less than four ounces before July 1, 2021 will be allowed to petition the court to have their records erased at no cost.
Polling indicates a strong majority of Connecticut residents support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for adult use. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis reported cannabis legalization will create strong growth in jobs and revenue in the state.
Now it’s up to the federal government to take action. “Federal lawmakers need to stop dragging their feet and get the message: it is time to take swift action to end our federal prohibition and allow states to legalize marijuana as they see fit,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said of the state’s recent attempts to legalize.
The entire bill — confusing legalese and all — is here.
This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.