Ahead of session, Norwich-area legislators ask about marijuana, tolls
Norwich — Business leaders on Friday morning addressed their questions and concerns regarding marijuana legalization, tolls, sports betting, building permits and more to a group of six Republican and two Democratic state legislators.
This was the first Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast for 2020. The chamber every year holds one breakfast in January for the legislators to listen and answer questions, and one in June for them to summarize the recently completed session.
The legislators present Friday were Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton; Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague; Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme; Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard; Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford; Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin; Rep. Brian Lanoue, R-Griswold, and Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville.
One topic that garnered a lot of discussion was marijuana legalization, after Jason Vincent of Norwich Community Development Corporation asked if there would be a bill this year and what legislators' concerns were.
Reaction ranged from skepticism and caution from McCarty and Ryan, to vociferous opposition from Cheeseman.
Cheeseman said part of the motivation for legalization is addressing the disproportionate justice meted out to people for low-level drug crimes, and she has no problem with expunging records or increasing job opportunities after those kinds of arrests have taken place.
What she does have a problem with, she said, is legalizing a substance that is more powerful than what was on the market 40 years ago, and that has led to an increase in drugged driving tests and emergency room visits in Colorado, the first state to make recreational use legal.
Cheeseman objected to arguments that legalization would cut down on the black market, noting that an estimated 80% of sales in California, and about 30% in Washington and Colorado, are on the black market.
"I think the worst reason to add an additional intoxicant for legal consumption in the state of Connecticut is for revenue," she said.
Similarly, Dubitsky questioned, "Why would you do this just for money? There are plenty of other ways to get money into the state. Primarily, we should spend money correctly so we don't need extra money."
France voiced concern over losing defense contractors, while McCarty said she still is struggling with the issue and researching studies of its impact on student achievement.
Ryan agreed with his colleagues' points and said the only positive he could see in legalization would be production under the same strict conditions as medical marijuana.
Before the cannabis discussion, a few attendees pushed back on tolls. Vincent argued that the state should be auditing the existing transportation infrastructure, providing the example that the four-lane bridge on Route 2 going over Route 78 in Pawcatuck should instead be a two-lane road.
"Once these things are built, the sky's the limit for taking money from us," said Gary McKeon of Joshua's Limousine Service, noting that Rhode Island recently downgraded its projected revenues from trucks-only tolls.
But McKeon did praise Osten for her diligent work on the gaming bill over the summer, saying the state should've addressed sports betting the day the federal government approved it.
Osten noted that the bill also increases alcohol consumption hours at the casinos, allows for three entertainment zones in the state and conservatively would raise about $95 million for state coffers. "Our goal is to put the revenue out to municipalities, in order to be able to lower what the worst tax is, which is the property tax," she said.
Aside from marijuana, tolls and gaming, Soucy Remodeling owner Denis Soucy wondered if the state can do anything to standardize the building permit process, as different towns have different requirements.
Attorney Ted Phillips asked that legislators treat the business community with respect. While legislators touted the elimination of the $250 business entity tax, he pointed out that the cost of filing an annual report increased, and he said many businesses "saw that as a tradeoff without disclosure."
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