Around 50 Yale students and New Haven residents piled into Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Tuesday night to hear from a panel at a public forum on legalizing and regulating marijuana in Connecticut.
Hosted by the Yale Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a local chapter of an international initiative to end the war on drugs, the event kicked off with a round of discussion. Four speakers explained why they supported legalizing marijuana for adult use. The two state representatives, Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, and Melissa Ziobron, R-East Hampton, discussed how legalizing marijuana could benefit Connecticut by providing a reliable revenue source for a state with a $3.5 billion budget deficit, while the two other speakers — both of whom were members of their local SSDP chapter — stressed other social benefits associated with marijuana legalization.
This year, four bills seeking to legalize marijuana were introduced in the Connecticut Legislature, two of which went to public hearings, the first time this has happened for a marijuana legalization bill. Connecticut statutes already permit marijuana for medicinal use.
Candelaria added that he has been proposing similar legislation for the last three to four years.
“It has been an effort without much success,” he said.
Ziobron, a Republican with a self-declared “wide libertarian streak,” said the topic is a common-sense issue rather than a partisan one. She affirmed that marijuana use is inevitable and pointed towards different states such as Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts — all of which are either on the cusp of a law or already include one.
Panelist Sam Tracy, director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, pointed out that the current opioid crisis has led opponents to reject marijuana legalization because they are concerned about potential rampant drug use. But Tracy said marijuana could be a potent substitute for prescription drugs and heroin, thus curbing opioid-induced deaths.
Policy chair at the Minority Cannabis Business Association Jason Ortiz said the marijuana debate in Connecticut is different from other parts of the country. The former is still deciding whether to legalize cannabis, whereas the latter is juggling legislation to regulate cannabis sales, he added.
Ortiz underscored that legal marijuana sales in other states disproportionately benefit white and wealthy business owners because some states have exorbitant application fees and limited licenses.
Both Candelaria and Ziobron concurred that legalizing marijuana through the state legislature presents a large obstacle. According to Ziobron, if marijuana legalization is passed, Connecticut would be the first state to do so, as other states all legalized cannabis via ballot initiatives. Ziobron said she hopes to obtain relevant data that demonstrate financial and social advantages to legalizing cannabis so that she could effectively and timely persuade her caucus.
Both Ziobron and Candelaria urged attendees to contact local representatives and declare support of the bill.
“As a community, we need to be at the capital together,” Ortiz said.
Candelaria identified educating his own constituency, which is a largely Latino and religious demographic, as the focus of his advocacy. He said his efforts to legalize marijuana have received some backlash, namely from local church leaders as well as members of the state Democratic party.
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana.