A prudent step toward marijuana legalization

A bill recently backed by the Appropriations Committee to set the stage for the possible legalizing of marijuana in Connecticut closely aligns with the proposed approach we suggested nearly a year ago. The General Assembly should approve it.

Our May 28, 2017 editorial called upon the state legislature to 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 Appropriations bill would seek the same results but use a different approach. It calls on state agencies, rather than a commission, to draft a plan for the legalization and regulation of the drug. Due Oct. 1, the resulting recommendations would provide a framework for a bill that the General Assembly could act on in 2019. It would also become part of the political debate in the coming state election campaign.

This partial step should be able to win support both from legalization supporters and those who are undecided. It does not commit the legislature to make marijuana legal for recreational use, but it will help set some parameters and provide options for the legislative discussion that would follow.

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters approved legalizing the purchase, possession, home growth and use of marijuana. Since then, legislators and regulators in Massachusetts have been slow to develop the regulatory and legal structure for lawful marijuana. But while some details remain to be worked out, Massachusetts is on schedule to begin allowing retail sales July 1. When that happens, many Connecticut residents will be making the short trek north to buy marijuana, with all the tax and commerce benefits flowing to Massachusetts.

In other words, 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 an adjoining state? Or will citizens be able to purchase marijuana legally in Connecticut, with revenues flowing to their 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.

A strong argument can be made that alcohol is far more dangerous.

There are concerns, certainly. Easier, legal access to marijuana could well lead to more habitual users. Unlike a Breathalyzer test to detect intoxication, there is no surefire method developed to provide physical evidence of driving high while on pot.

This is why Appropriations made the right move in outlining that the plan developed by state agencies must include provisions for substance abuse treatment, prevention and awareness programs.

On the positive side, legalization and regulation would not only produce revenue for the state, but assure the marijuana sold is unadulterated by other drugs or substances.

The state should consider seeking ways to keep this as a local, small vendor business. Making marijuana a Madison Avenue product would mean less economic benefits flowing back to the state and a bigger marketing push to expand its use. But given the money that could be made, corporate involvement is probably inevitable.

Lastly, we again urge Congress to repeal the federal law that makes marijuana illegal and classified the same as heroin, a nonsensical policy. Leave this to the states.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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