Connecticut Takes First Steps Toward Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

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A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when the judiciary committee approved it by a narrow margin. 

“I am a proponent of legalizing cannabis,” Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven) said. 

Winfield said he supports both Gov. Ned Lamont’s bill and another one to legalize marijuana. The judiciary committee passed Lamont’s bill by just six votes. Three Democrats voted against the measure.

“Beginning from July 1, 2021, through January 1, 2024, only the existing medical establishments and social equity applicants can open up cannabis establishments,” Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport) said. 

Stafstrom, who co-chairs the committee, said lawmakers have been focused on making sure individuals from communities impacted by the war on drugs have an opportunity to get into the industry. 

But not all lawmakers agreed with the approach. 

“We know you violated the law, but we’re going to reward you and we’re going to take off 50% of the fees,” Sen. Dan Champagne (R-Vernon) said.  

Lawmakers also expressed concern that those younger than 21 years old would get their hands on the drug. 

“I would just ask that we think about the kids and how we work harder at preventing the increased access for the children,” Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-Ridgefield) said.  

O’Dea said he might be comfortable if it was 25 and older, but he’s not comfortable with 21. 

Other lawmakers said it was important to regulate this market. 

“The benefit to legalization lies in regulation. We know that right now too many Connecticut residents, too many of our constituents purchase cannabis on an illicit and an illegal market,” Sen. Will Haskell (D-Wilton) said.

Regulating it guarantees that it isn’t laced with deadly drugs like fentanyl. 

Lawmakers objected for other reasons too. 

“Currently this product is illegal. It’s a controlled substance under federal law,” Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-Wallingford) said. 

The bill allows an individual to possess up to 6 ounces of cannabis, creates a cannabis control commission to oversee the industry, and allows medical patients to grow their own. 

Like Massachusetts, Connecticut's bill would set up a cannabis control commission to approve licenses and monitor the industry. 

Steven Hoffman, who is the chairman of the cannabis control commission in Massachusetts, said they are happy to welcome New York and potentially Connecticut to the marketplace. 

“I think that all three states can be very successful in terms of building a healthy big market that brings opportunities for people who have been harmed by previous marijuana prohibition,” Hoffman said.  

Hoffman said they still have a lot of opportunity to grow the business in Massachusetts. This past November marijuana retailers in Massachusetts surpassed $1 billion in sales in just under two years. 

Lamont included revenue from cannabis sales in his two-year budget.

Lamont is proposing a 6.35% sales and use tax and a 9.5% excise tax. The proposal also gives municipalities the option of levying their own 3% excise tax. 

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