State Senate passes bill legalizing recreational cannabis
The state Senate passed legislation that would legalize recreational cannabis just before 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The bill passed 19-17, with six Democrats voting against and one Republican voting in favor. Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, both voted and stood to argue against the measure.
While the state House is expected to debate the bill over the next few days, time is dwindling to push the bill through the legislature, as the legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight.
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said he believes the votes are in place to pass the bill.
"It's largely the same as what came out of judiciary committee about two months ago, but we've made adjustments," he said Monday. "We do have a strong commitment from the House Democratic caucus to vote on a cannabis bill."
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said it's likely that some Democrats will vote against legalizing recreational cannabis, but also indicated that some Republicans could vote in favor. House leadership said the plan is for the cannabis bill to come to the floor for a vote on Wednesday.
Disagreement between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party caused a delay in the legislature debating the bill. The text for the new version of the bill was released to the public on Saturday evening. Ritter called Rojas's negotiations with the disparate wings of his party and the governor's office, "maybe one of the longest, most painful, and difficult negotiations a legislative leader has ever negotiated."
Activists, as well as progressive Democrats, were concerned about the definition of "equity applicant" under Lamont's bill. Proponents of recreational cannabis say the difference between Lamont's bill, which made it out of two committees, and House Bill 6377, New Haven Democratic Rep. Robyn Porter's bill, seemed minuscule but were in fact massive. The equity applicant program is designed for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to have an easier and separate process to start a marijuana enterprise rather than competing with corporations.
Language in Lamont's bill at one point stipulated that a private company could qualify as an equity applicant through hiring people that qualify as equity applicants. The equity applicant definition in the bill being voted on this week scraps that language, instead designating social equity applicants for cannabis business licenses as people who live in specific geographic areas that have been most hard-hit by the war on drugs. Half of business licenses for recreational cannabis in Connecticut will go to equity applicants under the bill.
Cannabis activists feel this still doesn't go quite far enough in that it doesn't specifically classify people or people's family members who have been arrested for marijuana infractions as equity applicants, but it's still closer to what the progressive caucus and the Black and Puerto Rican caucus are looking for.
Licenses will be given via a lottery system, a holdover from Lamont's bill that more progressive supporters are generally opposed to.
The Senate-approved bill includes strengthened provisions for growing marijuana at home, another pillar of cannabis activists' advocacy work. Homegrow will be allowed for anyone 21 or older starting in July 2023 with a limit of 12 plants per household. Cannabis will be taxed at slightly more than 9%, with some of the revenue going toward areas disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. Retail sales would begin in May 2022. The legislation states that municipal governments can ban or set limits on cannabis businesses in their jurisdictions.
The bill also stipulates that the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe can come to agreements regarding cannabis. While the Mohegans have shied away from the possibility of joining the marijuana business, the Mashantuckets have been more receptive to it.
On Monday, Rojas urged Republicans not to filibuster the bill through prolonged floor debate or introducing amendments. Ritter noted that Republicans could talk through the June 9 at midnight deadline. If that happens, though, he threatened calling a special session for Thursday.
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