Yale Daily News

Connecticut may soon join a growing list of states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

The Connecticut General Assembly is currently considering several proposals regarding marijuana usage in the state — two authorizing and regulating the retail sale of marijuana and the other establishing a “cannabis equity policy.” The bills are now under review by separate legislative committees. The committees held separate public hearings on the ramifications of legalization on March 22.

“[Cannabis prohibition] has been just as much of a failure as America’s short-lived experiment with alcohol prohibition,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, during one of the hearings. “It is time we take the rational, common-sense approach to cannabis, as we did with alcohol: regulating and taxing it.”

Looney also cited a 2017 Sacred Heart poll that indicated that 71 percent of Connecticut residents support decriminalizing recreational marijuana use.

The first bill, which has 40 cosponsors, was referred in January to the Joint Committee on Finance, Revenue, and Bonding. The cannabis equity bill was introduced in the upper house by Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, and was referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary. The third bill, which decriminalizes cannabis sales to adults 21 years and up.

That last bill would also create a five-member, governor-appointed Cannabis Commission within the Department of Consumer Protection and would provide a budget of at least $500,000 annually for outreach to communities disproportionately harmed by the longstanding prohibition on the drug.

The bill also requires cannabis and cannabis products to be accompanied by a scientifically accurate warning handout or label, which would warn about driving under the influence, cannabis-use disorder and groups at special risk from marijuana use, such as young adults and pregnant people.

Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 has thrown his support behind marijuana legalization, citing its potential as a source of tax revenue and a way to regulate a potentially dangerous market.

“Legalizing recreational marijuana like our neighbors will make for a safer market that will be carefully regulated and taxed,” Lamont said in his budget address on Feb. 20.

In his address, Lamont also endorsed using sports betting and internet wagering as new revenue sources. The governor’s proposed budget itself does not mention potential revenue from recreational marijuana but does allot $190,000 more to the Department of Consumer Protection for — among other industries — the “regulation and enforcement of palliative use of marijuana.”

The state’s nonpartisan fiscal office estimates that using a model similar to Massachusetts’, the state could generate more than $30 million annually. Some legalization advocates, however, have estimated that revenue could total up to $180 million per year.

Winfield — the author of the state Senate cannabis equity bill — stressed the importance of correcting past inequalities in drug-use law enforcement in the process of legalization.

“Part of our job is to ensure that those who have been most impacted by the war on drugs are not left behind in this conversation, and instead are at the center of it,” Winfield said in a statement on March 14.

Winfield proposed expunging the criminal records for those with cannabis convictions and sending significant portions of tax revenue from marijuana back to urban communities “that bore the brunt of the unjust war on drugs.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, white and black Americans are about as likely to use marijuana, yet black Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests made between 2001 and 2010, around 88 percent were for marijuana possession rather than dealing or other drug-related crimes.

Nevertheless, some concerns with the bill remain. Three of Connecticut’s biggest employers — Electric Boat Shipyard, Sikorsky Aircraft and United Technologies Corporation — voiced apprehension about federal regulations that require that their employees do not use or possess cannabis in order to maintain their security clearances.

Several residents spoke at the public hearings on March 22 to express concerns about the health ramifications of marijuana use and the influence that “big pharma” could have on the budding industry.

Yale Students for Common Sense Drug Policy Vice President Nina Bernick ’21 acknowledged the detrimental effects of marijuana use but nevertheless supported measures to legalize it.

“Yes, marijuana is not good for you,” Bernick told the News. “But people are going to use it anyway. We want to ensure that marijuana is safe and regulated, and we must end the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.”

Ten states have decriminalized recreational marijuana use.

Nathalie Bussemaker | nathalie.bussemaker@yale.edu