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Connecticut Lawmakers Kill Cannabis Legalization Bill in Committee

Pushback from both Republicans and Democrats reflects public divisions over legal marijuana in the Constitution State.

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Photo via iStock/ Nastasic

The push for cannabis reform in Connecticut has suffered a setback after the state General Assembly's General Law Committee voted to shut down a bill that would have legalized and regulated adult-use cannabis retail sales. The issue was hotly debated in the committee, but unlike other states where Democrats champion legalization against Republican opposition, the committee saw bipartisan agreement on both sides of the issue.

Advocates of the legislation deliberately pushed the bill to the general law committee because all three co-chairs of the committee have come out in favor of legalization, believing it was the bill’s strongest opportunity to move onto the General Assembly. Three other committee members joined their chairmen in voting for the bill, but the measure ultimately failed with a 11-6 vote. Proponents of the legislation had hoped that the committee would approve the bill because they were only discussing specific elements of it, including the maximum plant limit for home-grows.

Committee co-chair Sen. Carlo Leone told the committee that Connecticut should step up with its own legalization program because legal weed will be available later this year in neighboring Massachusetts. “If we don’t confront it here and now, we will be confronting it down the road,” said Leone as reported by the Hartford Courant. Senate President Martin Looney also spoke in favor of legalization, telling the committee that “it is time we take the rational, common-sense approach to marijuana, as we did with alcohol: regulating and taxing it,” according to the Connecticut Post. “We need to ensure that Connecticut is not left behind as our neighbors move forward with common sense marijuana policy.”

Other portions of the bill are currently being examined in three additional legislative committees, and even some opponents expect it to come to a debate before the full Assembly.

State Sen. Kevin Witkos voted to move the bill “along to the next phase,” though he added he may vote against it in a final Senate vote. “Why should we not be discussing it on the floor? Residents are going to be driving to Massachusetts to purchase marijuana and we are going to have to deal with it,” he explained.

"There's still a lot of issues that are on the legislators’ minds, so I didn't expect it to pass," Leone said to the Courant. "I think the bill, as was mentioned, still has a long way to go but this gives us the opportunity to think for when that time comes, whether it's now, or some time in the future or far off in the future. At some point, we need to have a framework."

Deputy House Republican leader Vincent Candelora said that he disagreed with the idea of splitting the bill into four separate committees, and believes that the Assembly should instead “have one public hearing, one vehicle and have that vehicle go around committee to committee so that it could address all the issues.’’

The stark division over legalization in the General Assembly reflects the divided opinion of the state's residents. Several advocacy groups took to the streets last year to both in support of and against legal cannabis, with arguments ranging from cool-headed logic about tax revenue to fear-mongering warnings about children receiving weed in their Halloween baskets.

If the General Assembly eventually succeeds in passing a legalization bill, chances are growing that it could be signed into law by the governor. Last month, current Gov. Dan Malloy, who has previously opposed cannabis reform, added cannabis sales tax revenue to a list of alternative solutions to supplementing the state's budget shortfall. Connecticut residents will also have a chance to elect a new governor this year, and one of the leading candidates, Dan Drew, has promised to legalize weed if elected.