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Cannabis bill passes crucial committee

May 2, 2019

HARTFORD — The final piece of marijuana legalization legislation passed a key legislative committee Wednesday, along with two alternative toll proposals.

Legalizing recreational cannabis use and implementing electronic tolling on highways are significant priorities of Gov. Ned Lamont, but face uncertain futures in the General Assembly.

The passages of these bills by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee Wednesday sets the stage for final negotiations between legislative leadership and Lamont on marijuana and tolls.

The Finance Committee approved a bill setting a $35 per ounce levy on cannabis flowers and $13.50 per ounce on the rest of the plant. It also includes a 6.35 percent states sales tax and 3 percent local sales tax, which will go to the towns that host dispensaries, and under an amendment offered to the committee, behavioral and mental-health programs.

The committee predicted their marijuana tax plan would bring $57.2 million to the state in fiscal year 2021.

The bill would send most cannabis revenue to “community development corporations,” approved by the state, which would use the most to invest in job training, education and community rebuilding initiatives in urban areas hit hard by the war on drugs.

“We applaud the committee for advancing this legislation, which is both forward-thinking and mindful of the past,” said Kebra Smith-Bolden, co-director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, who testified in favor of the bill. “It very thoughtfully proposes the state direct the revenue from legal cannabis sales to the communities that have long borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition. This boost in much-needed resources to underserved communities promises a safer and healthier future for all Connecticut residents.”

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, an opponent of legalized cannabis, said he was concerned that retails sales for adults could impinge on the state’s successful medical marijuana program. “This program will decimate our medical program,” Candelora warned.

The committee also advanced a bill proposed by Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, to establish a commission to create a 30-year transportation improvement plan and propose the appropriate way to fund it — perhaps tolls, or gas tax changes, or borrowing.

The legislation could be a third way on tolls. Lamont is pushing strongly for passage in 2019, but with all Republicans firmly against tolls, some Democrats opposing them and others on the fence, it’s no done deal.

Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, a former leader of the state’s Transportation Strategy Board, warned that study committee are usually ignored. “The reality is it was a lot of work for nothing,” Cassano said shortly before the 8:15 p.m. vote Wednesday.

A Republican-backed plan to use bonding to pay for transportation investments also passed the committee, although Democrats widely oppose that idea.