Kristina Kim

Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 hosted a community conversation at the Hall of Records on Monday night to discuss cannabis legalization in Connecticut.

At the hearing, around 30 people — including city officials and students representing Yale’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy — discussed the benefits of cannabis legalization and the reasons they are passionate about the cause.

Some said cannabis saved their life by allowing them to escape addiction to harder drugs. For his part, Catalbasoglu noted that he became more involved in the legalization debate after more than a dozen people in New Haven overdosed in February after using K2, a synthetic cannabinoid. Although Catalbasoglu asked, no opponents to legalization came forward to speak at the hearing.

“Legalization is about removing one of the most explicitly racist laws in existence, fighting mass incarceration and the opioid crisis, improving our educational system and keeping Connecticut residents safe,” YSSDP President Aidan Pillard ’20 said.

Catalbasoglu is working with Pillard and the YSSDP in an effort to pass a resolution through the Board of Alders in support of legalizing and taxing cannabis in Connecticut. The proposed legislation has been assigned to the joint committees of Public Safety and Human Services, but is currently held up because both committees are busy working on other issues.

The Hartford City Council passed a similar resolution last December urging the Connecticut General Assembly to focus on cannabis legalization in the current legislative session. And for the first time in Connecticut history, a bill that would begin the process of planning to legalize recreational marijuana passed the Appropriations Committee. House Bill 5394 requires many state agencies to create a concrete plan by Oct. 1 to legalize and regulate cannabis while also strengthening substance abuse treatment and prevention.

But there are still many opponents to the bill and it remains unclear whether it will be brought to a vote in this legislative session, which ends on May 9.

Advocates for cannabis legalization at the public hearing asserted that cannabis is not a gateway drug.

“If anything it’s a gateway to a better life,” said Cody Roberts, a member of the board of the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Roberts cited data that there has been a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdoses in states that have legalized cannabis, noting that he has a personal stake in the conversation because eight of his friends have died from overdoses in the last year and a half.

Kebra Smith-Bolden, a registered nurse and the market leader for the Connecticut Chapter of Women Grow, a national organization that aims to attract women into the cannabis industry — said she got into the fight for cannabis legalization through her grandmother. Smith-Bolden said marijuana helped her grandmother escape her pain and interact with society after devastation to her body after an aneurysm.

Joe LaChance, deputy director of the Connecticut chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, urged the crowd to reach out to legislators and show that there is public support for legalization.

One resident, Rose Jackson, said legalization and regulation would make it much safer for her to buy marijuana. At the moment, she said, she has to buy it on the streets, with the constant threat that it could be laced with another drug.

“I don’t feel safe when I have to go to some hole in the wall,” Jackson said.

Ashna Gupta | ashna.gupta@yale.edu