Connecticut lawmakers are set to vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill for the first time after legislative leaders came to an agreement with the governor on details of the proposed legislation.
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) and House Speaker Mark Ritter (D) were locked in negotiations with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration over the past few weeks ahead of this session’s legislative deadline. A previous legalization proposal put forward by Lamont – SB 888 – was met with disapproval among progressive Democrats for its lack of social equity provisions to help remedy the harms of cannabis prohibition for those disproportionately impacted by Connecticut’s marijuana laws.
The compromise bill is largely a combination of Lamont’s measure plus a bill introduced by Rep. Robyn Porter (D) earlier this session. Instead of amending aspects of Lamont’s bill, which had already passed trough two committees, lawmakers decided to introduce the new proposal as a standalone bill. But given the looming legislative deadline, they accompanied the bill with emergency certification which means it can head straight to the House and Senate floors for a vote.
The near 300-page piece of legislation would legalize possession and use of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana or equivalent in concentrates by adults 21 and older from July 1 this year. Persons would be permitted to store up to five ounces at home or in a vehicle, while home cultivation of up to 12 plants per household would be allowed only for medical marijuana patients from October 1, 2021, with recreational users required to wait until July 1, 2023.
The measure would establish a taxed and regulated cannabis market in Connecticut and the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would be responsible for issuing licenses to prospective cannabis businesses, from growers through to retail sellers, and for regulating activity in the legal market. Rojas indicated he anticipates the adult-use market would launch in May, 2022, should the proposal pass into law.
With Lamont’s concessions, the final bill stipulates half of all marijuana business licenses must be set aside for social equity applicants, who would also be eligible for direct assistance in establishing their business through support for workforce training and grants for start-up costs. Provisions of the bill further require 60 percent of marijuana excise tax revenues to be reinvested in marginalized communities that bear the brunt of the war on drugs.
The aim, Rojas said, is “to ensure that this new marketplace is really open to as broad a spectrum of individuals who want to enter that marketplace as possible… [instead of] … just having large corporate or over-capitalized interests dominating the market.”
Those with prior marijuana possession convictions of four or less ounces would have their criminal records automatically expunged starting 2023, while persons with low-level convictions for dealing cannabis would petition the courts for expungement from July 1, 2022.
Connecticut’s legislature now faces a race against the clock to get the legalization bill passed before this session’s deadline so it can head to Gov. Lamont’s desk for his approval. The governor previously indicated that were the measure not to succeed this year, he would support putting the question to voters through a ballot measure in 2022.