Connecticut lawmakers to revisit legal marijuana in new session

HARTFORD — Connecticut lawmakers will revisit whether to allow recreational use of marijuana among people 21 and over in the new legislative session, but it remains questionable whether 2020 will be the year a bill clears the full General Assembly.

Opponents contend that if there were enough support among legislators for the bill, it would have been passed already. Bills failed during the 2019 session.

“They couldn't get the support last session despite picking up numbers in the House and Senate,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford. “We heard last year this is going to happen. Legalization is going to occur. And it didn't. Why? Because when people learn about the subject matter, it's a lot tougher to vote for it. So a lot of people are still peeling off of it. The House is far short in the votes."

Senate Democrats on Thursday announced their caucus' plans to push again for legislation that regulates and taxes cannabis, including an initial, special sales tax of 25% on top of the regular 6.35% sales tax. Eventually, that would change to a $50 per-ounce tax, possibly generating at least $166 million a year.

As in previous years, Senate Democrats also plan to advocate for criminal justice reforms to be part of any final legislative agreement, such as expunging criminal records for certain minor drug crimes. State Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, predicted legalization won't pass again if such provisions aren't included.

“If they're not addressed, I don't think we have a snowball's chance to get pieces of this legislation passed,” he said, acknowledging it will already be “a tough challenge” to pass a legalization bill during an election year for state lawmakers.

McCrory suggested the General Assembly focus early on during the short, roughly 3-month-long legislative session that begins Feb. 5, on finding ways to address racial disparities for marijuana-related crimes.

McCrory and others also want to provide opportunities for residents of urban areas to benefit financially from a new, legalized marijuana industry in Connecticut.

The push by some Democrats to resurrect the marijuana legalization bill comes as Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's administration continues to work with neighboring states, including Rhode Island and New York, on legalization efforts.

“Whatever we end up doing, this year or next year, whatever, we want to do on a regional basis with the same standards, similar regulations,” Lamont said following a separate event on Thursday.

“It does makes sense to me to think about this on a regional basis,” he said. “Not just legal or illegal, but also in terms of THC content, non-availability to people under 21, no edibles, whatever those rules of the road are. The law is too confusing if it changes from one border to the next.”

The governors of both Rhode Island and New York recently offered legalization proposals to their respective legislatures.

 

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