Connecticut lawmakers hold hearing on marijuana legalization
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers held a public hearing Monday to discuss details of a new bill proposed by the governor that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
At the meeting inside the Capitol complex in Hartford, legislators on the state’s Judiciary Committee heard from representatives of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration about the bill that would allow adults 21 or older to use and possess recreational marijuana up to 1.5 ounces.
The 108-page bill introduced during Lamont’s February State of the State speech would automatically erase convictions of possession of 4 ounces or less of pot for people convicted before 2015. Those convicted after 2015 can petition the court for erasure.
“We have to recognize the war on drugs has had a tremendously destructive impact on certain communities,” said Jonathan Harris, senior adviser to the governor.
He added that nearby states like Massachusetts and Vermont have already legalized marijuana or are on track to legalize it like Rhode Island and the state “can’t stick our heads in the sand” anymore.
The efforts to legalize marijuana come after last year’s attempt failed.
Marc Pelka, the governor’s top criminal justice aide, said the objective is to help repair the harm that past policies criminalizing possession of marijuana created and to lower the barriers for people with those convictions to get employment, stable housing and education among other things.
“The criminal conviction remains on your record for 110 years after your date of birth, so that means when most people are buried, the work that they’ve done to atone for the wrongs or to rehabilitate or move forward, that conviction remains on their permanent record,” Pelka said.
Lawmakers discussed a July 1 deadline for marijuana to be legal to consume and a timeline of two years before pot would be sold.
After lawmakers talked, the public was able to voice opinions on the proposed legislation.
Rev. Erenestine Holloway, of Meriden, said while she was on the fence with the bill, her problem with it deals with the lack of protection for the youth.
“Decriminalization of marijuana and the selling of marijuana should be a separate issue; this is going to devastate our community,” she said. “Where’s the education piece to this?”
Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, spoke about how there is “fairly compelling evidence” that marijuana can affect the youth, though he mentioned it was his opinion and not representing the university.
“While we define adulthood as 21 years of age, at least as brain scientists we actually know very well the brain only continues to mature and is complete by age 26,” he said.
New Haven Democratic state Sen. Gary Winfield, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the next step is a meeting where committee members can voice their opinion and then vote on advancing the bill.
Chris Ehrmann is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, in a partnership with The Associated Press for Connecticut. The AP is solely responsible for all content.