The Senate voted Thursday to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults in Connecticut, the final legislative action for a bill that lays the groundwork for the new industry in Connecticut and attempts to address racial inequities stemming from the nation’s war on drugs.
The legislation, which passed on a 16 to 11 vote, now moves to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk. Four Democrats joined all the Republicans in attendance in opposition. Nine senators were absent for the vote.
The Democratic governor, whose administration helped to negotiate the final deal, is expected to sign it into law.
“We will have a regulated product, a taxed product and a system for use by adults, as we have for tobacco, as we have for alcohol,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, noting that marijuana is already prevalent in society.
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It’s also anticipated senators will register the final vote by the General Assembly on a massive bill that spells out details of the new two-year $46.3 billion state budget, among other issues.
Thursday marked the second time the Senate had voted on both bills in special session. Each was amended by the House of Representatives, requiring another Senate vote. The Senate previously passed the marijuana bill during the regular legislative session, but the House did not vote on it in time for the General Assembly’s June 9 adjournment deadline.
House members on Wednesday stripped an amendment the Senate previously added to the cannabis legalization bill that ensured that an “equity applicant” for marijuana industry licenses, who would receive preferential status, could include people living in certain geographic areas who were previously arrested or convicted for the sale, use, manufacture or cultivation of cannabis. The provision also applied to individuals whose parent, spouse or child was arrested or convicted of the same charges.
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Lamont had threatened to veto the legislation if that provision were included, arguing it would open up the industry and give preference to tens of thousands of people with a history of cannabis crimes, or members of their families, regardless of their financial means.
“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war. The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety. That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs," Lamont said in a statement.
He said states surrounding Connecticut already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets.
"By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states," Lamont's statement says. "Connecticut residents will benefit from the portion of cannabis revenues that will be dedicated to prevention and recovery services. This measure is comprehensive, protects our children and the most vulnerable in our communities, and will be viewed as a national model for regulating the adult-use cannabis marketplace."
“I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice,” Lamont added.