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Connecticut Lawmakers Legalize It!

The state legislature has approved Cannabis legalization and all signs point to Gov. Lamont signing the bill into law.

Photo via Pixabay

Connecticut’s General Assembly has approved a marijuana legalization bill. On Thursday, the state Senate passed a version of the bill amended and approved by the House one day earlier. The 16-11 Senate vote sent the legalization bill to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk.

While the governor has yet to sign the bill into law, Lamont supports marijuana-law reform and even introduced his own legalization measure earlier this year. Shortly after lawmakers passed the legalization bill, Gov. Lamont released a statement that read in part, “I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”

Assuming the governor follows through and signs the bill, Connecticut’s adult-use law would allow possession of up to an ounce and a half of Cannabis beginning July 1, 2021. While the bill doesn’t specify an official launch date, sales could begin as early as May 2022.

Home cultivation would also be allowed under the law, with medical pot patients getting the first crack at growing, followed eventually by recreational consumers.

The new law includes several criminal justice reforms as well. Automatic expungements for minor marijuana convictions will begin in 2023. And starting next year, requests can be made for expungements of other pot-related convictions, including for sales and possession of paraphernalia.

Connecticut’s adult-use law offers protections for workers, tenants, students and people in need of medical care, as positive tests for pot or proof of recreational Cannabis use can’t be used against them. Additionally, police would not be allowed to use the smell of marijuana to justify a search.

Social equity was the biggest legislative hurdle lawmakers faced in creating the state’s adult-use law. However, feedback from advocates helped legislators strengthen the bill’s equity program. Under the new law, qualified equity applicants would receive 50 percent of industry licenses, including for growing, retail, manufacturing and delivery. Social equity applicants would also receive a 50 percent discount on licensing fees. Once awarded a license, equity business owners would only pay 50 percent of licensing fee renewals for the first three years.

Additionally, a large portion of retail pot tax revenue would be reinvested in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Lamont’s signature on the adult-use bill would bring an end to a tumultuous effort to legalize Cannabis in Connecticut. During his State of the State address in January, the governor pledged to work with the General Assembly on a tax and regulate plan in 2021. However, his own pot proposal was widely criticized for emphasizing pot sales tax revenue the state badly needed to help close its budget gap, and failing to establish an equity program that would benefit residents most affected by the war on drugs.

For his part, Lamont maintained that the bill was a starting point and not a finished product. His office worked with lawmakers and the bill was amended to include stronger social equity elements. While the proposal ultimately advanced through separate legislative committees, advocates favored a competing Cannabis measure introduced by Rep. Robyn Porter, which focused on equity and criminal justice reform.   

The current bill, SB 1201, is a compromise measure introduced by House Speaker Matt Ritter and Senate President Martin Looney. The measure includes elements of the bills put forward by Lamont and Porter.

Yet despite the compromise, the bill required a special legislative session and multiple amendments to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Lamont even threatened to veto the measure if language expanding social equity eligibility wasn’t removed.

The governor’s office released a statement criticizing the equity amendment, which they believe “allows just about anyone with a history of Cannabis crimes or a member of their family, regardless of financial means, who was once arrested on simple possession to be considered with the same weight as someone from a neighborhood who has seen many of their friends and loved ones face significant penalties and discrimination due to their past Cannabis crimes.”

After the governor weighed in, lawmakers removed the amendment that expanded equity eligibility and added a provision that prevents legislators, elected officials and marijuana regulators from entering the legal pot industry for two years after leaving office.

The latest version of the bill, now nearly 300 pages long, passed the House and the Senate and currently awaits the governor’s signature. Lamont has indicated his intention is to sign the marijuana measure into law.

With the governor’s signature, Connecticut would become the 19th state to legalize Cannabis (if you include South Dakota and Montana) and the fifth state to pass an adult-use bill in 2021, as lawmakers in New Jersey, New York, New Mexico and Virginia all approved recreational marijuana legislation earlier this year.

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