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Legislature needs to chill before voting on cannabis bill

The editorial board has advocated for the full legalization of cannabis in the state for pragmatic reasons. Connecticut residents who want to buy pot through legal outlets can already do so, but with other states getting the business and the tax dollars.

The plant-based drug is available for retail sale in neighboring Massachusetts. Vermont and Maine predated Massachusetts in fully legalizing cannabis. New York recently voted to do so as well, and it appears Rhode Island might be about to follow suit. It is also legal in New Jersey. All told, 17 states have fully legalized the drug, while another 20, including Connecticut, allow its use for medicinal purposes.

But the manner in which the General Assembly may be about to legalize cannabis and its regulatory controls is concerning.

Can everyone just chill out and give this process a little more time and clarity?

The Senate approved legalization 19-17 as the regular session neared its end last week. When the session ended without a House vote, a special session was scheduled, with the Senate taking up the matter Tuesday — again passing it, 19-12 — and a vote in the House is set for Wednesday.

We advocated for a different approach, the appointment of a special commission to look at the challenges of legalization from a variety of perspectives — business, social equity, health, law enforcement and advise the legislature.

Gov. Ned Lamont and state legislative leaders opted instead for the more traditional sausage-making of the law-enactment process. There were negotiations, and deals, and adjustments aimed at making enough elected officials happy to get the necessary votes for narrow approval. This approach has led to this major piece of legislation, with significant health and cultural implications, to not only to be tagged onto the closing days of the session, but inserted into an overtime process.

The result is that many in the public will only fully understood what is in the bill after it passes, if it passes. As things now appear headed, the legalization will be enacted without a public hearing process on the actual final language of the roughly 300-page bill.

We’d prefer the House pause, allow the opportunity for the public to be heard in the coming months, then take up the matter up in the 2022 session, with potential adjustments based on what it has learned.

Writing for the Connecticut Mirror, Robert J. Corry Jr., a pro-legalization lawyer based in Denver and one of the chief authors of Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in 2012 in that state, warns Connecticut is about to repeat many of Colorado’s mistakes.

“Colorado has a commercialized, elitist, polluting, government-protected drug-dealing industry, that perpetuates itself to the detriment of the public and the planet,” he wrote. “No true free enterprise exists in this industry, but rather an oligopoly of crony capitalists given privileged licenses. Competition and innovation are stilted.”

“Connecticut is poised on the threshold of a similar marijuana mistake,” he states.

We would like to learn more, but a vote this week and the governor’s signature would not allow that opportunity.

Industrial marijuana, he writes, amps up the THC, the psychoactive ingredient, producing “not a high at all, but either a dead numbness or a scary psychotic paranoia, especially with edibles or concentrates.” He urges a 15% THC cap. 

Like Colorado, Connecticut would use a licensure process, with a $3 million fee for a cultivation license. So-called “social equity partners” would get a 50% discount. A “social equity applicant” is defined as someone who grew up in a neighborhood disproportionately affected by the enforcement of prior marijuana criminal laws, or is a resident of one.

It is unclear what protections there are against deep-pocketed investors backing a social equity applicant to gain a discount and a foothold.

Also unclear is whether a provision that essentially requires union membership from cannabis-related building construction to cultivation and retail employment would violate federal labor laws.

Granted, these licensed cultivators would not have full control. Individuals could legally grow a few plants for their own use.

Cannabis will be taxed at slightly more than 9%, but it is uncertain if its expense will encourage a black market to persist, as it has in other states to lesser and greater degrees.

More time and increased transparency could lead to prudent adjustments and greater public faith that legalization — which polls show is supported by a majority of residents — is being done in the best manner.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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