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Connecticut may be on track to switch from a blue state to a green state, according to several hopeful legislators and community members.

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2018 signing of the farm bill — which legalized the cultivation of hemp at the national level — several Connecticut lawmakers and community members are optimistic that the legalization of marijuana is not that far away. According to Aidan Pillard ’20, the president of the Yale chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the current political landscape in Connecticut could signal progressive legislation.

“Broadly, cannabis legalization is looking likely during the current legislative session,” Pillard told the News. “With Democrats in control of both houses and a governor who has expressed willingness to sign a legalization bill, should it make it to his desk, the atmosphere is the most positive that it has been in recent memory.”

While Connecticut and 32 other states have legalized marijuana for medical use, only 10 states and the District of Columbia have voted to decriminalize recreational use of the drug. Of these 10 states, only Vermont passed the bill through its state legislature — the remaining nine used a statewide vote. Pillard told the News that the state will most likely follow Vermont’s approach.

As of June 2015, marijuana possession is treated as a Class A misdemeanor in Connecticut and can result in a modest fine or even jail time, according to the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research Report. While the official policy specifies those penalties, actually facing punishment for possession is by no means guaranteed in some states. On Monday, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced she will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, in order to focus on more violent crime, according to NPR.

Newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont’s SOM ’80 stance on marijuana legalization is favorable. According to the U.S. News & World Report, Lamont believes legalization will cut down on black market sales of the drug and allow for better state regulations. Yale School of Public Health professor Robert Heimer agreed with this sentiment, telling the News that legalization could help buyers of already widely available marijuana be aware of what exactly they are purchasing.

“One thing that’s true with all black-market drugs is that when you buy it from someone who’s selling it on the street, you have no idea what it is or what’s in it, and when you legalize it and regulate it, at least you know what the product is,” Heimer told the News.

Selling street drugs has certainly made it into the public spotlight. This past August, there were over 100 overdoses on a synthetic marijuana compound called K2 on the New Haven Green. In a University-wide email at the time, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin wrote that substances such as K2 “are prevalent in New Haven and place our community at risk,” listing possible side effects of the drug, ranging from high blood pressure to death.

According to Yale School of Public Health professor Mark Schlesinger, it remains difficult to pinpoint the effects that marijuana legalization could have on the street drug trade.

“In principle, legalization or liberal medicalization reduce black-market products. But the evidence from a number of states is that some black market persists,” said Schlesinger. “And it’s not exactly clear why, since quality is far more reliable in legalized sales. [It] might have something to do with the allure of high potency, in which case the impact would depend entirely on the allowed limit of THC in the legalized products.”

According to Heimer, marijuana is categorized as a Class 1 drug at the federal level, along with drugs like heroin and LSD. Class 1 drugs are noted as illegal because they have a “high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Meanwhile, stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine are Class 2 drugs, making it easier for researchers to access those drugs for scientific studies. The DEA categorizes Class 2 drugs as having less of a potential for abuse relative to Class 1 drugs, with Class 5 substances having the lowest potential for abuse. Class 2 drugs also include medications like Adderall and OxyContin.

Heimer stated that on the whole, research on marijuana lags far behind that of other drugs, leading to a paucity of knowledge on the longterm effects of cannabis, while stimulants like cocaine and meth are more easily synthesized within a lab and therefore more easily funded.

“Some of it is legal, some of it is pharmacological and some of it is just the unwillingness of the federal government to sponsor or to support any kind of research that might demonstrate potential benefits because that would undermine the war on drugs,” Heimer said.

Schlesinger told the News that there are several ways that states can make marijuana more widely available —  either through first relaxing existing criteria for obtaining a prescription for the drug or by legalizing it completely. According to Schlesinger, states such as Colorado, which had a relatively open policy toward medical marijuana before recreational use was approved, were able to implement legalization through a cleaner process than states who legalized suddenly in comparison. Massachusetts, for example, moved from stricter medical cannabis laws directly to full legalization — but still gave local governments the power to allow or prohibit the sale of marijuana within their borders.

Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 submitted a bill to the Board of Alders on Feb. 4, calling for a public hearing to discuss the effects of legalization on New Haven and its residents.

“Marijuana will be legalized in Connecticut at some point during Governor Lamont’s administration, so I think it’s important that we get out in front and understand how we’re going to go about the legalization,” Catalbasoglu told the News. “Once we do it, it’s going to be legalized, and we need to make sure we have the right infrastructure, the right procedure in place to make sure it’s done effectively.”

He added that while legalization is a “yes or no” decision, what follows is significantly more complex, noting issues like expunging the records of people previously convicted of drug charges. Catalbasoglu noted that Massachusetts’ marijuana legalization has resulted in several large distribution companies forming conglomerates, effectively pushing smaller companies out of the industry.

The winds are also shifting on a federal level. The farm bill, signed in December, legalized the national cultivation of hemp. Related to marijuana, hemp contains lower levels of THC, which is the main active ingredient in cannabis. According to the bill, licensed growers are restricted from growing hemp with more than a 0.3 percent THC concentration, but in the case of a negligent rule violation, growers will have time to correct their mistake. Harsher punishments are only levied if the grower has repeatedly ignored protocol.

According to the CTPost, Connecticut farmers are excited by the prospect of a growing hemp industry, which analysts say could grow to a $20 billion industry in four years. Though the conditions of the farm bill require states to have growing plans in place before cultivation, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture is currently working on such a proposal, to be voted upon by the General Assembly sometime this year.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu