Legal recreational marijuana could soon be coming to Connecticut under a new plan announced by legislative committee leaders earlier this month.

Lawmakers filed several related pieces of legislation which together propose a new system to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis sales.

“Legalizing a substance that has been illegal for more than 80 years is a complicated process,” said Rep. Michael D’Agostino, co-chair of the General Law Committee, during a press conference. “And the way we approached it this year was to divide this process into three main areas: regulation, decriminalization and monetization.”

These three areas will be considered by the relevant committee – General Law, Judiciary, and Finance.

“Because of the procedure in the legislature, we could not just have one bill,” D’Agostino said.

The bills (S.B. 1085 and S.B. 1089) from the Judiciary Committee focus on aspects of legalization such as driving under the influence and outlining a process for the erasure of past marijuana-related convictions. The primary bill legalizes up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

The General Law Committee’s bill proposes a framework for the potential regulatory structure for legal cannabis sales.

Reversing damage done to marginalized communities

“A large part of this bill [coming out of General Law] is ensuring that there’s equity moving forward,” said Rep. Josh Elliot. “There’s the financial component, but there’s also the recognizing who has been affected by the war on drugs component as well. A large part of what’s coming out today is representative of the fact that we want to be acknowledging what sort of damage this has done to communities around Connecticut and around the country.”

To help undo this damage, lawmakers seek to prioritize commercial license applicants from marginalized communities who have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana and left behind by the national legalization movement.

“At each level … we are embedding in this proposed bill various components to address what we call broadly ‘equity,’” said D’Agostino. “Equity applicants—people from areas disproportionately impacted by the drugs wars, people with prior convictions for possession—will have an advantage and will be able to seek licenses three months in advance of anyone else, except for the existing cultivators and distribution facilities for our medical marijuana program.”

Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said that he’s cautiously optimistic about the bills put forward by Connecticut lawmakers.

“Specifically that they would head-start equity applicants—I think that’s something that hasn’t been done before on a statewide level,” he said. “So we’re really making some progressive history here in Connecticut, if what they say is what we see in the language. But I haven’t seen the bill yet.”

Public hearings for the new legislation have already begun. “This is just the start of the process,” D’Agostino said.

Marijuana legalization has a significant number of influential supporters in Connecticut, including Gov. Ned Lamont, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, who introduced his own legalization bill earlier this year. Further, more than a quarter of the members of the House signed on as initial cosponsors to separate legalization legislation in January.

“It will pass in Connecticut,” Gov. Lamont said last month at a conference. “Why do you hand this over to the black market? I think that’s one of the dumbest things we can do.”

Image via Flickr.

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