Done right, legal marijuana makes sense

The legislature should form a special commission to make recommendations as to how marijuana could best be regulated and taxed for sale to adults aged 21 and older. The panel should be mandated to return its recommendations to the legislature in a subsequent session, at which time we would urge lawmakers to legalize the sale of the drug for recreational use.

This process would not produce the immediate revenue boost that some are seeking to get the state through the current budget crisis. While fiscal matters are part of the calculation, they should not drive this decision. Better to do it right than to do it fast simply to raise revenue.

Last November, Massachusetts voters approved legalizing the purchase, possession, home growth and use of marijuana. State legislators in Massachusetts are now working on the regulatory and legal structure for lawful marijuana, now restricted to medical use, as in Connecticut. Things are proceeding slower in the Bay State than pot proponents anticipated.

In time, however, Massachusetts will follow the lead of Colorado and a handful of other states and set up a mechanism for selling and taxing the drug. When that happens, Connecticut residents will be making the short trek north to buy marijuana, with all the tax and commerce benefits flowing to Massachusetts.

Rhode Island also appears to be moving toward legal pot and Vermont has taken that step.

Connecticut faces this reality. The question is not whether state citizens will use marijuana to get high. They are and will continue to do so. The question is how will they buy it? Will purchases continue to be made from black market sources? Or legally in adjoining states? Or will citizens be able to purchase marijuana legally in Connecticut, with revenues flowing to the state?

The experience with legalization in Colorado and elsewhere has produced no evidence that legalizing use of the drug will degrade society. It is difficult to justify the inconsistency that an adult who prefers to unwind by drinking alcohol can do so legally but an adult who prefers a marijuana buzz is put in the position of violating a law.

Alcohol is arguably the more dangerous of the two. Imbibing too much alcohol can be lethal, not true with marijuana. Alcohol can lead to profound addiction. While people can use pot abusively, and become psychologically dependent on it, withdrawal does not cause the physical response produced when a heavy drinker quits.

Legalization and regulation would assure the marijuana produced is unadulterated by other drugs or substances.

But it is a complicated process, which is why it would well serve the legislature to seek the advice of a panel with legal, law enforcement, consumer, medical, retail and tax experts.

Which agency would oversee regulation? Who and how could it be sold? What would be a tax rate high enough to generate desired revenue but not so high as to encourage continued purchasing in the black market?

How can driving under the influence of a pot high be identified and prosecuted? In what forms and at what strength level should sales be allowed? Can people grow their own? If so, how much? Should there be restrictions on advertising and celebrity endorsements?

The state should consider seeking ways to keep this a homegrown — pun intended — small vendor business. Making this a Madison Avenue marketed product presents the greatest danger of legalization leading to vastly expanded use.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that marijuana sales could produce $100 million or more in revenue annually for Connecticut, with 14 percent spent on regulation. That estimate may prove conservative.

Money aside, this is a big step that Connecticut needs to do correctly, learning from states that pioneered the end of marijuana prohibition. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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