marijuana legalization

Lawmakers Debate Recreational Marijuana, Equity

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Since 2012, 15 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Will Connecticut be next?

“Because prohibition has failed because legally, nationally, cannabis is being legalized, we can’t stick our head in the sand at this point anymore,” Jonathan Harris, Gov. Ned Lamont’s senior adviser, said.

Harris told the legislature’s Judiciary Committee Friday that they want to end prohibition and regulate marijuana.

“To get rid of the black market. To make sure that we have a well-regulated, fully regulated market, the governor proposed a comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, taxation of adult-use cannabis,” Harris said.

The legislature has considered marijuana legislation in the past but none of the bills have made it to a vote of the full legislature.

This year, Lamont included about $42 million in tax revenue from legalization in his two-year budget proposal.

Harris said the governor’s proposal is comprehensive.

“The bill actually wasn’t pulled out of thin air. It builds on our medical marijuana program,” Harris said.

Connecticut decriminalized small amounts of marijuana and legalized medical marijuana in 2012. There are now more than 50,000 patients in the program, four growers and 18 dispensaries. One of those growers is CTPharma.

“All products are tested by a third-party laboratory and each of the products is also registered with the Department of Consumer Protection,” Rino Ferrarese, president and chief operating officer of CTPharma said. 

Ferrarese said the manufacturing process in Connecticut is highly regulated.

“In America, in 2021, we expect our products to be standardized and safe and really pure,” he said.

He thinks Connecticut got it right and would be happy to participate in an adult-use program.

“I think it’d be a reasonable transition to participate in an adult-use program since we do have the product selections and offerings that are available today,” Ferrarese said.

But the legislature isn’t necessarily on board with Lamont’s bill to legalize marijuana. Lawmakers have their own ideas about how to legalize cannabis. 

“This bill really truly, thoroughly does an accounting of the damage done by the war on, you know, what some people call the war on drugs. What I call the war on Black, brown and poor people,” Rep. Robyn Porter said.

Porter introduced a competing legalization bill that she said looks at this issue differently.

“We’re making sure those reinvestment dollars are going directly back into these communities,” Porter said.

Equity would require legislation that puts those impacted most by the war on drugs in Black and brown communities are put at the front of the line to get a license to grow and sell marijuana. They said that under the governor’s bill, they would have to wait five years to get into the business and that’s unacceptable.

“We make sure the first year the licenses are going to equity applicants. We’re not putting the folks that have been harmed the most at the back of the bus,” Porter said.

They would also like to require what's called labor peace agreements that allow the workers in the industry to unionize.

“I would love to believe that the spirit of the governor’s bill does have some equity. They wanna push forward equity, however, it just does not do it,” Kebra Smith-Bolden of CannaHealth said.

Smith-Bolden said there’s no way to do this incrementally.

“You can’t just piecemeal our communities and limit our ability to grow and really change the trajectory of our lives,” Smith-Bolden said. 

Would the legislature be able to pass legalization without the equity provisions included in porter’s bill?

Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, said she was willing to vote against the governor's bill if it didn’t include equity.

“If we put equity applicants at the back of the line behind you know basically maintaining the corporate status quo with the medical industry, I don’t think we can ever repair that,” Hughes said.

That’s not to say they don’t want to legalize it.

“We want to do it this session. We have a lot of public will to get it over the line. And we have quite frankly a lot of public will to get it right,” Hughes said.

Harris said the governor is still open to having conversations about how to achieve equity.

“The governor is not ignoring this discussion group, is not ignoring social equity. We want to continue that discussion,” Harris said.

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