Surbhi Bharadwaj

The debate on marijuana legalization has made its way to the Elm City, as Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 works with the Yale Students for Sensible Drug Policy to pass a resolution through the New Haven Board of Alders in support of legalizing and taxing cannabis.

In December, the Hartford City Council passed a similar resolution urging the Connecticut General Assembly to take the issue seriously in the 2018 legislative session, which began on Wednesday. Yale Students for Sensible Drug Policy President Riley Tillitt ’19 said the issue is especially urgent, given that more than a dozen people in New Haven have overdosed in the last two weeks after using K2, a synthetic cannabinoid.

Both Catalbasoglu and Yale Students for Sensible Drug Policy worked together to draft a resolution and submitted the legislation to the Board of Alders in the last month.

Catalbasoglu said last week that the legalization debate is personal to him, noting that when he was a child, a relative overdosed on a street drug in front of him. Asked on Sunday night whether he has ever smoked marijuana, Catalbasoglu responded curtly: “No.”

At the next full board meeting on Feb. 20, Catalbasoglu will introduce the proposed resolution to the full board and the alders will discuss setting a hearing date.

“The resolution is meant to spur a conversation that has been sidelined for too long,” Catalbasoglu said. “It’s to indicate to the General Assembly that New Haven will no longer sit back and watch as New Haveners lose their lives because of outdated, discriminatory practices.”

Once the board’s leadership assigns the legislation to a committee, the board will hold a public hearing with both legislators from Hartford and physicians from Yale, Catalbasoglu said. So far, Ward 2 Alder Frank Douglass and Ward 27 Alder Richard Furlow have expressed support for the resolution and no alder has openly dissented. Still, Catalbasoglu said he expects there to be opponents of the legislation at the hearing. And in an email to the News, Furlow said he has no opinion on the proposal.

Tillitt said the idea of passing such a resolution came from the Hartford City Council and started coming to fruition when the vice president of the Yale chapter, Aidan Pillard ’20, contacted Catalbasoglu over winter break. The chapter is working with the directors of state and local action for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Kate Raphael and Zach Johnson, to help mobilize support for the resolution,Tillitt added.

Two important benefits of cannabis legalization are that it reduces opioid use as a pain medication and “racially discriminatory sentencing” for simple possession, Pillard said.

“Our resolution would also ask that any legislation include provisions to ensure that the benefits of a legal cannabis market would not favor the already wealthy but would allow groups that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs — such as low-income people, black people and Latinos — to engage in the new market,”Tillitt said.

Tillitt voiced similar sentiments: If cannabis were legalized, he said, the K2 overdoses in recent weeks may not have been so numerous.

“Because [K2] is unregulated, a contaminated batch can quickly spread through the community, as we’ve seen in these past few weeks,” Tillitt said. “If Connecticut regulated cannabis, we believe that these overdoses would have been unlikely to happen and fewer people would turn towards the black market.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy, whose second term will end next January, has opposed the expansion of cannabis legalization beyond Connecticut’s current medical program, which protects medical marijuana patients from prosecution as long as they register with the Department of Consumer Protection. During last spring’s legislative session, a number of legalization proposals failed to reach the General Assembly’s floor for a vote.

Still, a Sacred Heart University poll last fall showed that 71 percent of Connecticut residents support the legalization and taxation of marijuana.

Nearly 10 states around the country have already legalized recreational marijuana, though each of these laws was created via a public referendum. Since Connecticut does not have a ballot question process, marijuana legalization in the Nutmeg State would have to go through the General Assembly.

Ashna Gupta | ashna.gupta@yale.edu