A bill to legalize marijuana in Connecticut that’s being backed by the governor was approved on Friday in another committee, potentially setting it up for a floor vote next week.
This comes as Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) office and legislative leaders work to resolve differences in their respective legalization proposals. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) said on Tuesday that the plan was to reach an agreement by the week’s end, with the expectation of “acting on it sometime next week” in the Senate.
By a vote of 29-18, the Appropriations Committee cleared the governor’s bill, which was also approved in the Judiciary Committee in last month. The latest action sets the stage for floor action in the Senate, where it could be amended to reflect a new agreement that both Lamont and lawmakers can support.
But time is running short to pass the reform this legislative session, which ends June 9. And both parties involved in the legalization negotiations have said they’d prefer to avoid tackling the issue in a special session, though that has been floated as backup plan.
“SB 888 continues to make its way through the legislative process having now cleared its second major committee with a solid majority voting in support of legalization,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s another indication that the legislature is quickly moving to pass legalization prior to the June 9th end of session deadline.”
House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said this week that his optimism about the prospects of passing the bill has increased based on conversations he’s had with colleagues.
“I’ve sort of been struck by just having conversations as words gets out that the majority leader’s working group is making progress with the governor’s office—and I’m struck by the number of people who I thought were noes previously, or maybe who are kind of getting there,” he said.
Ritter said that he now feels there’s a 57-43 chance that the legislation is approved, whereas he previously gave it a 50-50 chance.
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Negotiations with the governor’s office have largely centered on social equity of late, and Rojas said the policy is about “ensuring that entrance of the marketplace is able to be accessed by communities and individuals who live in the communities who have been most impacted by the war on drugs.”
Meanwhile, the governor on Monday said he and legislative leaders are having “good, strong negotiations,” and there’s “broad agreement” on policies concerning public health and safety. There’s “growing agreement” with respect to using marijuana tax revenue to reinvest in communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition.
If a legalization measure isn’t enacted this year, Lamont said earlier this month that the issue could ultimately go before voters.
“Marijuana is sort of interesting to me. When it goes to a vote of the people through some sort of a referendum, it passes overwhelmingly. When it goes through a legislature and a lot of telephone calls are made, it’s slim or doesn’t pass,” the governor said. “We’re trying to do it through the legislature. Folks are elected to make a decision, and we’ll see where it goes. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably end up in a referendum.”
Ritter similarly said last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.
According to recent polling, if legalization did go before voters, it would pass.
Sixty-four percent of residents in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, a survey from Sacred Heart University that was released last week found.
A competing legalization measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D), which is favored by many legalization advocates for its focus on social equity, was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee in March.
Lamont, who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, initially described his legalization plan as a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”
But while advocates have strongly criticized the governor’s plan as inadequate when it comes to equity provisions, Ritter said in March that “optimism abounds” as lawmakers work to merge proposals into a final legalization bill.
Rojas also said that “in principle, equity is important to both the administration and the legislature, and we’re going to work through those details.”
To that end, the majority leader said that working groups have been formed in the Democratic caucuses of the legislature to go through the governor’s proposal and the committee-approved reform bill.
In February, a Lamont administration official stressed during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that Lamont’s proposal it is “not a final bill,” and they want activists “at the table” to further inform the legislation.
The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. Those bills stalled, however.
Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.
The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”
He also said that legalization in Connecticut could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting out-of-state trips to purchase legal cannabis in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
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