The Connecticut Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing last Wednesday for a bill that would legalize recreational use of marijuana in the state.
The bill, filed in January by Connecticut Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, would have allowed and regulated marijuana sales to any person 21 years or older in the state. According to a press release from Looney’s office, the legislation strategy was modeled to closely resemble Colorado’s approach to marijuana legalization and taxation in order to generate more state tax revenue.
At the bill’s public hearing, testimonies from Connecticut citizens, businesses and state senators were read before the Senate Judiciary Committee, most of which were in support. In his testimony, Looney compared the criminalization of marijuana to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and attributed the drug’s continued prohibition to racially charged motivations.
“Marijuana prohibition has lasted 80 years,” he said. “Yet it has been just as much of a failure as America’s short-lived experiment with alcohol prohibition. It is time we take the same rational, common-sense approach to marijuana as we did with alcohol: regulating and taxing it.”
Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez’s statement brought attention to the racially disproportionate amount of arrests for cannabis use and the war on drugs’ “abject failure in reducing crime and addiction.” Legalizing marijuana would reduce crime and offer opportunities for young people and entrepreneurs to succeed in a new industry, Bermudez said. She also discussed potential large-scale economic benefits of legalization, citing Colorado’s increasingly successful tourism industry as an example of the benefits Connecticut may see from legalizing the drug.
Anthony Baldwin, a New Haven resident, echoed Looney’s sentiments and discussed different nonrecreational purposes for marijuana, such as use for medicinal purposes or as an environmentally friendly alternative to materials traditionally used to produce plastic, paper and clothing.
Additionally, Baldwin suggested that marijuana taxation could be a viable solution to President Donald Trump’s impending budget cuts for a variety of state programs.
Still, the Judiciary Committee received roughly 25 of approximately 100 testimonies in opposition to the bill.
Matthew Burke of the Family Institute of Connecticut sent a letter in opposition to the bill, in which he outlined concerns about the safety of marijuana usage, particularly in youth. Burke added that medical costs related to substance abuse would far exceed state revenue from marijuana taxation.
“What the general fund gains in terms of tax on sales of marijuana,” Burke wrote, “it must spend on regulation, enforcement, public health and safety, substance abuse treatment and increased hospitalizations due to negligent child exposure, increased consumption, accidental edible THC consumption and increased drug-related motor vehicle accidents.”
Karolin Regan, a social worker from Branford, Connecticut, also wrote in opposition to the bill. Specifically, she expressed concern over impaired driving and marijuana use among youth, citing data from an impact report on marijuana in Colorado, which states that marijuana use among youth in Colorado rose by 65 percent in the year following official legalization.
Regan also questioned the financial benefits of legalization and regulation, suggesting that costs of state bureaucracy in licensing, taxation and coordination with law enforcement would surpass any increase in state revenue that could be generated.
The Connecticut House of Representatives is considering three other bills related to marijuana sale and regulation.