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Senate amends recreational cannabis bill during special session

The state Senate again passed a recreational cannabis bill on Tuesday but drew a veto threat from Gov. Ned Lamont.

After passing the legislation 19-17 in regular session, senators passed it again during special session, 19-12. It now goes again to the House, where Democrats had expected to get to passing a recreational marijuana bill that the Senate passed earlier last week but ran out of time. Republican filibustering and daylong debates caused Democratic leadership to turn to what they said is their bargaining chip: throwing the legislature into special session.

An amendment introduced Tuesday would include people with past cannabis convictions as social equity applicants, a major victory for progressive proponents.

Social equity became a major part of negotiations for the cannabis bill during the session. The equity applicant program is designed for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to have an easier and separate process to start a marijuana enterprise rather than competing with corporations.

Social equity applicants also are designated as people who live in specific geographic areas that have been most hard-hit by the war on drugs. Equity applicants must have at minimum 65% ownership and control of relevant companies. Disproportionately impacted areas are defined as census tracts with high drug arrest rates or unemployment rates of more than 10%. Equity applicants are required to have a median income less than triple the state's median income. A social equity council will evaluate applications from equity applicants.

Lamont’s Chief of Staff Paul Mounds sent out a statement later in the evening opposing that amendment, saying it “opens the floodgates for tens of thousands of previously ineligible applicants to enter the adult-use cannabis industry.”

"That is not equity, and Governor Lamont will veto this bill if it reaches his desk in its current form," he said.

Senators ultimately included language that necessitates applicants have some sort of connection to a distressed area. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to avoid a veto from Lamont.

Another change to the bill made on Tuesday would ban elected officials from participating in the cannabis industry for two years after leaving office.

House lawmakers will have a decision to make on the almost 300-page bill that provides for social equity, tax revenue, growing weed at home and scrubbing criminal records of qualifying marijuana-related charges. It’s caused much debate between progressive and moderate Democrats and the governor’s office, with Republicans generally opposed.

s.spinella@theday.com

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