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Gov. Ned Lamont's Cannabis Proposal Gets Green Light From Committee, With Some Changes

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration is one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana after Senate Bill 888, proposed by the governor himself, was voted out of the state’s judiciary committee on Tuesday. 

Under the bill, adults 21 and over could possess up to 1.5 ounces of pot. The measure also would allow those convicted of possession of 4 ounces or less after October 2015 to request the erasure of those criminal records. 


The vote comes after the committee heard testimony on the bill from advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, raising concerns about equity, revenue and federal law, according to CT Mirror. Critics worried about the social equity component were concerned the governor’s bill wouldn’t do enough to create equal opportunities in the industry for communities that were largely affected by the criminalization of cannabis. 


Since then, the committee has added substitute language to address some of the concerns. According to committee Co-chair Rep. Steven Stafstrom, some of the revisions include requirements for retailers to have labor peace and wage provisions in place, the creation of mentorship and networking opportunities for social equity applicants and the formation of a workforce pipeline program to help those from impacted communities find jobs in the industry. 


Stafstrom called the bill a work in progress as more changes are expected. But as far as legalization, he said the bill nails the criminal justice component, which is the judiciary committee’s priority. 


“It’s long overdue in the state of Connecticut for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that this is a drug that is widely believed to be less addictive and less harmful to the body than many other drugs we already legalized and regulate,” Stafstrom said. “The war on drugs did not work. I think there are many of us, including myself, that believe this product should have never been illegal under federal law. And the idea is to give a clean slate to some when it comes to housing and employment.”  


Sen. Will Haskell agreed. He believes regulation of cannabis is a step in the right direction for the overall safety of residents. 


“We know that right now too many Connecticut residents purchase cannabis on an illicit and illegal market,” Haskell said. “And when they do so they are consuming an unregulated substance which could lead to really dangerous overdose situations.” 


The bill did not pass without some opposition, largely from Republican lawmakers. Concerns ranged from costs and driving under the influence regulations to the message it would send to children. 


Rep. Tom O’Dea was worried about how the drug will be regulated with regard to minors. 


“People under 21 are never going to be legal to buy, and they are always going to be buying on a black market. The black market is always cheaper. Access will increase because parents are going to be doing it,” O’Dea said. “Where access increases, use increases. Youth will always buy on the black market.” 


O’Dea said he would be more open to the proposal if there were more emphasis on how to keep marijuana out of the hands of those 25 and under. 


“We need to do more, in my humble opinion, to prevent kids from having increased access to marijuana. We need to do more. I have yet to meet someone in their 50s who said ‘thank goodness I started smoking pot in my teens.’” 


The bill is slated to move on to the state’s finance committee to define revenue distribution. According to the governor’s proposal, the revenue generated from the sale of pot should be allocated toward social equity efforts (55%), grants for prevention and recovery services (15%) and general funds to cover administrative costs (30%). 


The bill is one of two this legislative session aimed at legalizing recreational cannabis. Another bill on cannabis, with a greater emphasis on social equity and rights of cannabis workers, was voted outof the Labor and Public Employees Committee last week. That bill awaits a vote in the House of Representatives. 


The judiciary committee’s co-chair, Sen. Gary Winfield, is also a supporter of that bill. But he said regardless of which measure is passed, giving cannabis the stamp of approval is a necessary first step. 


“In my experience, there is no perfect bill. And this is amongst the crowd of bills that aren’t perfect,” Winfield said. “We need a bill that passes through the judiciary committee that answers the question of legalization.”

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