On Wednesday, Connecticut’s governor unveiled a budget proposal that includes a plan to legalize marijuana. But while the proposal emphasizes social justice, advocates expressed concern about the lack of specific details.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who convened an informal working group in recent months to recommend policy changes, said his budget plan would “create a comprehensive framework for the cultivation, production, sale, possession, use and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety and social justice.
“This proposal builds on the important work lawmakers have done in recent sessions on adult cannabis use and ensures consistency with states’ approaches in the region,” the plan summary states.
During the budget speech, the governor noted that “our neighboring states offer marijuana for recreational use on a legal and regulated basis,” while Connecticut misses out on tax revenue that could be generated by a consistent process.
See below Lamont’s discussion of his proposal to legalize cannabis:
“Instead of keeping this market out of the state or, worse, leaving it to an unregulated underground market, our budget calls for the legalization of recreational marijuana,” he said. “This additional revenue will go to needy communities that have been hardest hit by the war on drugs.”
The Lamont administration, which recently circulated a legalization proposal for comment, said in a written summary of the legalization proposal that it hopes Connecticut will become “the first state to create a truly fair cannabis industry.”
But the details of how communities most affected by the war on drugs can benefit from the legal industry will largely be determined after officials receive a report from the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“The commission will be responsible for developing policies and proposals on how the people and regions most affected by the implementation of cannabis prohibition can benefit from the creation of a legal market,” the document states.
Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (Connecticut) and a member of Lamont’s Cannabis Equity Task Force, said it all comes down to the details of implementing the legal market.
“The task force’s recommendations were clear, and I hope the governor heard us, but saying you support fairness is not the same as supporting it through systemic change and sound investments,” he said.
“I still think we have fundamental disagreements about what fairness means, but I look forward to analyzing the details,” he said, adding that he plans to review “every line of this bill” and will work with legislators and stakeholders to ensure that “the final policy adopted in Connecticut puts fairness first in terms of language and money.
DeVaughn Ward, of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the proposal is “a good starting point to begin negotiations with the legislature.
“I am encouraged that provision has been made for expenses such as microenterprise and utility licenses, the equity claim and a significant portion of revenues going to equity and communities of color,” he said. “The governor’s proposal makes me optimistic that a consensus can be reached this year on this complex issue.
In short, a summary of the Lamont Plan shows that the current approach to the criminalization of marijuana is a damaging failure.
“Cannabis prohibition has not worked,” the 10-page document states. “It has failed to protect public health and public safety and instead has done great injustice to many residents, particularly in black and brown communities, as a result of its enforcement laws.”
“With legal cannabis available or soon to be available in neighboring states, Governor Lamont has decided to file legislation that will create a legal cannabis market in Connecticut that is well regulated to protect consumers and the community as a whole, reduce the size and impact of the black market, and prevent economic losses to border residents in neighboring states.”
Other important provisions of the budget proposal include the following:
-Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Home growers would not be allowed, but penalties for personal marijuana cultivation would be reduced and the National Consumer Protection Division would be responsible for examining this policy. Possession between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces would be a misdemeanor, while possession of more than 2.5 ounces would be a Class C misdemeanor. Persons under the age of 21 who possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis are at risk of committing a misdemeanor, not a felony.
-Regulators will be responsible for approving licenses for “growers, retailers, medical/adult hybrid retailers, micro growers, product manufacturers, food and beverage manufacturers, product packagers and delivery services.” Initially, the permits will be approved through a lottery system. Existing medical cannabis businesses can be converted to recreational businesses “for a significant fee.”
-Sales of cannabis consumed in large quantities will begin in May 2022. A standard sales and use tax ($1.25 per gram of flower) will be imposed on the sale of marijuana. Local municipalities that allow cannabis businesses to operate in their area will be able to levy an additional three percent tax.
For fiscal year 2023, “cannabis market revenue is projected at $33.6 million, rising to $97 million in fiscal year 2026,” the summary says. Starting in fiscal year 2024, half of the excise tax revenue “will be diverted to municipal assistance and social equalization.”
-Marijuana convictions prior to October 2015 will be automatically erased. “Legalizing cannabis possession and deleting prior convictions will help to eliminate some of the disproportionate impact the war on drugs has had on black and brown communities in our state,” the plan states.
Law enforcement officers can only conduct searches, checks or seizures based on the smell of cannabis if the driver is intoxicated.
The state cannot deny individuals a professional license because of their work in the cannabis industry or their use of marijuana.
– To ensure that the program meets safety standards, the governor proposes to create 64 positions at the Department of Consumer Protection. A unique element would be that “mystery shoppers” would inspect cannabis businesses to verify compliance.
The House has considered legalization proposals several times in recent years, including a bill introduced by Democrats on behalf of the governor last year. But while they have stalled, optimism is growing that 2021 will be the year of reform.
Mr. Lamont reiterated his support for marijuana legalization in his annual State of the Union address last month and said he would work with the Legislature to bring about reform during this session.
House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said in November that legalization in the state was “inevitable.” Later in the month, he added, “I think it has a 50-50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you still have to have a vote.
If this effort fails, Ritter says he will propose putting the constitutional question on the ballot in 2022 and leave it to the voters.
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A poll conducted last year found that nearly two-thirds of voters (63.4%) “strongly” or “somewhat” favor legalization of leisure activities.
Some lawmakers have already made it clear that they will not support legalization unless they make a real commitment to social justice and reinvestment in the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.
Senator Douglas McCrory (D), co-chair of the education committee, said in a recent interview that “Frosty the Snowman will have more chance of success in summer school than any other piece of legislation in Connecticut if it does not address the justice system, the economy, and the communities that are being targeted and devastated by this phony war on drugs.”
The governor compared the need for regional coordination of marijuana policy to the response to the coronavirus, saying officials “need to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic, and I think we need to think regionally when it comes to marijuana.”
He also stated that legalization in Connecticut could limit the spread of COVID-19 by restricting out-of-state travel to purchase legal cannabis in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The following is a summary of Lamont’s plan to legalize marijuana:
Connecticut governor’s plan to legalize marijuana By Scribd
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
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