The Connecticut Senate on Tuesday passed legislation for the second time in about a week that legalizes the recreational use of cannabis for adults. But Gov. Ned Lamont is threatening to veto the retooled bill, arguing it opens the industry up to tens of thousands of people previously illegible to get priority for licenses.
Shortly before the bill cleared the Senate on a 19-to-12 vote, during the first day of a two-day special legislative session, Paul Mounds, the Democratic governor's chief of staff, issued a statement promising Lamont would nix the bill if it reaches his desk in its current form. The House is scheduled to take up the same legislation on Wednesday.
The legislation, "simply put, does not meet the goals laid out during negotiations when it comes to equity and ensuring the wrongs of the past are righted. To the contrary, this proposal opens the floodgates for tens of thousands of previously ineligible applicants to enter the adult-use cannabis industry," Mounds said in a statement. "This last-minute amendment creates equity in name only by allowing these individuals expedited opportunity to obtain access to the marketplace."
Mounds said the bill, which was amended twice on Tuesday, allows "just about anyone with a history of cannabis crimes'' or a member of their family, regardless of their financial means, who was once arrested for possession of drugs to be considered an "equity applicants. They would be given, Mounds argued, the same weight as someone from a neighborhood hit hard by the war on drugs.
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"That is not equity, and Governor Lamont will veto this bill if it reaches his desk in its current form,'' Mounds said.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, the co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee and a lead proponent of the legislation, acknowledged that a late change made to the bill on Tuesday "perhaps opens the gates further than many people had imagined "when it comes to determining who gets priority for marijuana-related licenses.
"I think what we were doing was trying to address the concerns of some people who felt like people who had records, particularly on cannabis, in the criminal justice system, would be able to participate under the system," Winfield said. "I think that the initial change we made definitely allowed this to go too far, and so we made an attempt to bring it back along the lines of some of the concerns of the governor … In doing that, clearly the governor feels as though we missed the mark.''
Winfield said many advocates of the bill wanted state legislators to clarify that people who've been arrested and convicted for marijuana-related crimes would be eligible to participate in the new industry, given past disparate treatment for marijuana-related crimes.
"For decades," said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, "we have done more harm by the legal system we ahve that has punished and cast a blight on the lives of many young people. And that has been done on the basis of race and class."
The revamped bill also requires the labeling of cannabis products to include levels of THC, the plant's main psychoactive component, and allows eligible individuals to grow up to three mature plants and three immature plants in their homes beginning July 1, 2023. The earlier bill had required a study of the "grow your own" marijuana option.
While an opponent of the bill, Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said some of the changes made a "bad bill somewhat better in small ways." However, he still did not vote for the overall proposal, which allows individuals 21 and older to possess and use cannabis beginning July 1. A person would be allowed to have up to 1.5 ounces, with an additional five ounces secured in their home or vehicle.
"It's not going to change my view at all,'' said Kissel, who reiterated the concerns he voiced last week about the impact of legalization on minors.
While the legalization bill had passed the Senate on June 8 during the regular session, by a 19-17 vote, the House of Representatives did not take it up in time to meet the General Assembly's adjournment deadline on June 9. Therefore, the Senate was meeting Tuesday in a special session. Besides the cannabis legalization bill, lawmakers were also expected to consider a massive, 837-page bill that spells out details of the new two-year $46.3 billion state budget, among other provisions.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to consider both bills on Wednesday.
The budget bill is wide-ranging, addressing issues ranging from recycling to inmate phone calls. For example, it details how grants will be made available for people who want to open bottle and can redemption centers for first-time owners in areas of the state where such centers are lacking. Also, it spells out how inmates, beginning July 1, 2022, will be eligible for free phone calls up to 90 minutes a day.
There is also a provision that could put municipal aid at risk for those Connecticut schools that still use Native American nicknames and mascots without written consent from a state- or federally-recognized tribe in their region.