Photo via iStock/ Sean Pavone
Now that a number of neighboring Northeastern states are either legalizing or considering recreational cannabis sales this year, Connecticut lawmakers are arguing that it is high time to get their own legal marijuana program in order. This week, a state legislative committee narrowly approved a bill to legalize and regulate retail marijuana sales, bringing that dream one step closer to reality.
The bill would require multiple state agencies to coordinate and develop a plan to legalize and regulate cannabis sales by October 1st of this year. The bill would also create new substance abuse, prevention, awareness, and treatment programs. The General Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 27-24 to approve the bill, which will now move to the state House of Representatives for debate.
Committee co-chair Sen. Paul Formica told the Hartford Courant that “this bill deserves an opportunity for further conversation and to get into the fine points of what that conversation would be.” State Rep. Juan Candelaria said to the Guilford Patch that even though the bill is “a work in progress,” legislators need to consider it seriously because the state “needs to have a plan when, not if,” cannabis legalization efforts eventually succeed.
“This is one of those tough crossover issues that brings both a social and economic aspect with it, and with a number of states in the region having either already approved legalization and regulation, or are trending this way, it’s clearly something that deserves to be looked at,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said to the Courant.
Although the bill's success in the Appropriations Committee is promising, lawmakers have doubts about whether or not the bill can be approved by both chambers of the Assembly before this year's legislative session ends on May 9th. “While the bill was passed by the Appropriations committee,” Aresimowicz told the Hartford Courant, “it is still early in the process and I expect we will have continued discussions within the caucus, before it can be determined if it will be called for a vote in the House.” Sen. John Kissel, on the other hand, said he believes there “isn’t a will in the legislature to move forward” with legalization this year.
Legislators also proposed a legalization bill last year, but it died in committee. This year, pro-cannabis legislators decided to take an unusual approach to advance their legalization efforts, creating four separate bills to be heard by four separate committees. Last month, the Assembly's General Law Committee voted to kill one of these bills, even though all three co-chairs of the committee were in favor of the legislation.
The state Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated that Connecticut could net $45 to $104 million each year if it were to legalize and tax cannabis sales. Gov. Dan Malloy, who has previously opposed legalization, recently acknowledged in a budget proposal that legal cannabis could be an alternative source of additional revenue for the coming fiscal year. While legislators seem to be seriously divided over the issue of legal weed, a recent poll has found that 63% of state residents are in favor of it.