Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana are standing by future legislative efforts to lift the prohibition, despite lawmakers’ refusal to consider potential tax revenue from marijuana in this year’s budget.
State Reps. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, and Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, held a joint press conference last week at the Connecticut State Capitol at which they reaffirmed their belief that legalizing recreational marijuana is a view a majority of adults in the state support. But the path to lifting legal restrictions is less clear-cut, as the latest House bill to legalize, tax and regulate retail marijuana in Connecticut was debated and tabled this June before the legislative session adjourned.
Though both chambers of the state legislature are deeply embroiled in a record-breaking budget impasse, lawmakers as well as Gov. Dannel Malloy have decided against legalizing recreational marijuana solely for its prospective $100 million revenue. Several members of the Connecticut Republican caucus who opposed legalization, such as state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, believe that lifting the ban on marijuana in an effort to close the deficit gap puts children and young adults in harm’s way.
Porter said that, for her, legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use is primarily an issue of social justice, as arrests for marijuana possession have disproportionately affected the African-American community.
“This has always been an issue that has impacted communities of color disproportionately and has sent many black and brown people to jail for what I feel are nonviolent offenses,” Porter said. “You have people serving time for marijuana charges. With the three-strikes law, you have some people in jail with life sentences, spending more time in jail than people who have done very heinous crimes.”
The increased governmental revenue that legalizing marijuana would bring is just “the gravy or icing on the cake for me,” Porter added.
Elliott echoed Porter’s sentiment and said the illegality of marijuana has allowed the state to incarcerate its users as opposed to educating them on drug abuse.
“The state has been using prisons as a way to lock up low-level offenders even though it is more expensive and less humane to do so,” Elliott said in a statement. “By regulating recreational marijuana like alcohol, we can educate society on its effects and address some of Connecticut’s inequality concerns.”
Cheeseman, who opposes legalizing marijuana, said in a recent interview with the News that children and adolescents would be exposed to an injurious substance if the state were to permit recreational marijuana, referring to various scientific studies that link higher risk of brain damage with early exposure to marijuana.
“If you are sitting at home and you see your parents get high, it affects you,” Cheeseman said.
Cheeseman also acknowledged that opposition to marijuana legalization is not a partisan issue. For instance, state Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, supports of recreational marijuana use. Ziobron noted during a marijuana legalization and regulation panel at Yale in April that Connecticut might be the first state in the country to legalize marijuana through legislative efforts.
All other states that have done so went through ballot initiatives, which is unconstitutional in Connecticut.
Looking beyond the current legislative session and budget crisis, Porter added that she is confident that the legalization bill will be implemented in the future, even though it does not yet have the support to become law.
“[Legalizing marijuana] is just inevitable as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “What concerns me is the timing, and that Connecticut might miss this tremendous opportunity, delaying and procrastinating on what is inevitable.”
Massachusetts, a state that voted to legalize recreational marijuana through a ballot vote last November, opened its first marijuana shops in July.
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