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Connecticut Gov’s Pot Bill Gets a Rewrite

A series of amendments emphasizing social equity are giving Gov. Lamont's legalization bill new life.

Photo by Sharon Mccutcheon

After initially being met with scathing criticism, Gov. Ned Lamont’s legalization bill is now gaining traction in Connecticut. The rebound comes thanks to a series of amendments that built up the social equity aspects of the governor’s proposal. And while legislators and advocates still consider the bill “a work in progress,” it recently managed to pass the Judiciary Committee.

Lamont has long advocated for legalizing Cannabis in Connecticut and has included a pot proposal in previous years. However, the governor’s desire to see legalization enacted is fairly transparent. Lamont badly wants adult-use pot sales tax revenue to help close the state’s massive budget gap, caused in part by the coronavirus pandemic. He’s also concerned with losing the market to neighboring states, as Massachusetts and Maine have already implemented retail sales, and New York and New Jersey are ramping up. Meanwhile, Rhode Island continues to make noise about passing a tax and regulate program.

Unsurprisingly, the governor’s pot proposal was mostly about the money and not nearly enough about equity and activism. A group called Black and Brown United in Action even called Lamont’s bill “an insult to democracy” and “another knee on the neck of Black and Brown communities.”

To his credit, Lamont insisted his bill was a starting point and not a finished product. And as it’s made its way through the legislative process, lawmakers have been able to make considerable renovations to the marijuana measure. The revisions have Lamont’s bill more in line with a competing Cannabis proposal introduced by Rep. Robyn Porter (D) that had received support from advocates and recently passed the Labor and Public Employees Committee. 

The governor’s bill now earmarks 40 percent of Cannabis business license types for qualified equity applicants.

Additionally, equity applicants would have something of a head start under the revised plan from the governor, as the state could begin taking applications from social equity businesses and current medical marijuana dispensaries seeking adult-use licenses on July 1. Everyone else wouldn’t be allowed to apply for licenses until January 2024. This was an important change as critics accused Lamont’s original bill of handing the new adult-use industry over to existing medical Cannabis businesses.

The governor’s revised bill would allow possession of up to an ounce and a half of marijuana (and up to five ounces at home). Medical patients would be able to grow up to six plants, while recreational cultivation would be decriminalized and subject to a fine.

The bill now includes automatic expungements of past pot convictions and bars police from using marijuana odor to justify a search. Additionally, 55 percent of pot sales tax revenue would go to a Cannabis Equity and Innovation Fund after three years of legal sales.