Lawmakers advance legal pot bill, but more changes promised
Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday advanced Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, with legislative leaders cautioning that additional changes will likely be made to the legislation in the coming weeks.
“This conversation is far, far from over,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
His counterpart, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, the other committee co-chairman, said some changes were made since the February public hearing on the Democratic governor’s proposal, which drew criticism from both supporters of legalization and opponents. But he acknowledged more work is needed.
“I believe the bill before us is further along and takes into account some of the concerns and criticisms of the bill we heard during the public hearing on licensing, equity and revenue,” he said. “But certainly there is more work to be done as this bill moves hopefully towards final passage in both chambers of the legislature both before the first week of June.”
The bill cleared the committee on a 22-16 vote. It awaits further action in the Senate.
Members of Lamont’s administration tried to assure the committee back in February that the governor’s bill — which creates a framework for a new legal system — was the starting point for discussion. They insisted, for example, that Lamont always intended to expand the bill to ensure Black and other communities of color adversely affected by the war on drugs benefit from a new, legal marketplace.
The revised version up for a vote on Tuesday adds new legislative appointments to a proposed Social Equity Council charged with making sure that potential social equity applicants, including people with prior marijuana-related drug offenses, have access to marijuana business-related licenses and that individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by drug laws get jobs in the new legalized industry. It also allows only social equity applicants and the existing medical marijuana operators to open recreational establishments between July 1, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2024. Critics of Lamont’s original bill argued it was too preferential to the existing medical marijuana operators.
The latest version of the bill also requires that cannabis establishments have a social equity plan and agree to various labor rights provisions. Additionally, the legislation creates an accelerated program to provide technical support, mentoring, networking and apprenticeship opportunities for social equity applicants, Stafstrom said.
Of the state revenues generated by the new industry, the bill requires 55% be used toward “social equity efforts,” 15% for drug prevention and recovery services, and 30% to cover administrative costs.
It remains unclear whether the legislation will ultimately clear the full General Assembly. Both Republicans and some Democrats voted against the measure on Tuesday. Critics continue to have concerns about the potential negative impact of legalized marijuana on youth, people driving while stoned, the proper training of police officers, as well as the potential growth of a black market for marijuana.
“As this bill stands, I cannot support it,” said Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, a former police officer and mayor. “I have way too many questions and way too many problems with different parts of this.”