On February 26, 2021, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing for S.B. 888 – An Act Responsibly and Equitably Regulating Adult-Use Cannabis – Gov. Lamont’s 2021 legalization proposal.
During the hearing, numerous advocates and policymakers discussed how prohibition has failed and the need for legalization as a more sensible, humane path forward. MPP implored the committee to advance the bill, but to first make revisions to make it stronger and more explicit on equity. You can check out our testimony here.
In the meantime, MPP, Regulate Connecticut, and its member organizations are continuing to advocate for an equitable system of legal cannabis regulation. For updates and opportunities to get involved, please sign up for our email alerts, and follow the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana on Facebook and Twitter.
Gov. Lamont unveils 2021 legalization proposal
On February 11, Gov. Lamont released his 2021 adult-use legalization bill. Last year, Gov. Lamont drafted a legalization bill, but the effort was upended when the legislative session was suspended due to the onset of the coronavirus.
Gov. Lamont’s 2021 proposal – S.B. 888 — would legalize possession up to one and a half ounces for persons over the age of 21, with legal sales beginning on May 2, 2022. The bill would also decriminalize possession of up to two and a half ounces. Persons with convictions for cannabis possession under four ounces prior to October 1, 2015 would have their records automatically expunged. Persons with possession convictions for less than four ounces after October 1, 2015 would be allowed to petition the court for expungement at no cost.
Under the bill, an Equity Commission would be charged with developing recommendations by November 15, 2021 on a number of issues, including qualifications for equity applicants and distribution of a portion of tax revenues to support residents in communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition.
Lastly, the bill would levy a wholesale tax of $1.25 per dry weight gram of flower, $.50 per dry weight of cannabis trim, and $.28 per gram of wet weight cannabis, in addition to the state sales tax of 6.25%. Municipalities could also levy up to a 3% tax at the point of sale. You can check out our summary of the bill here.
House Democrats vow to make legalization a priority in 2021 session
Buoyed by legalization efforts in neighboring states, House Democrats are determined to make cannabis legalization a priority in the upcoming 2021 session. “It is now legal in New Jersey, New York is coming, and it’s legal in Massachusetts,” House Speaker-Designate Matt Ritter said at a virtual meeting hosted by a business organization. “Connecticut cannot fortify its border.”
Ritter also said his caucus is equally motivated by a desire to “right historical wrongs,” citing expungement of criminal records as an essential component for any legalization measure.
In early 2020, Gov. Lamont proposed a legalization bill that was introduced by the former House Speaker and the Senate President. However, the 2020 legislative session stalled when the coronavirus forced legislative leaders to shutter their office buildings. Although progress was delayed, the public is overwhelmingly behind legalization: A January 2020 poll published by GQR confirmed, once again, that Connecticut residents strongly support legalizing cannabis, with 65 percent responding in favor.
New study finds legalization will produce significant economic growth for Connecticut
On September 16, 2020, the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA) released a study — commissioned by MPP — that added to the urgency of Connecticut ending its failed war on cannabis. CCEA’s study showed legalizing and regulating cannabis would lessen the economic pain wrought by COVID-19 by creating and preserving thousands of jobs and generating hundreds of millions in new tax revenue.
The study projected:
$692 to $740 million in total direct state tax revenue over five years of sales;
$35 to $53 million in direct state cannabis tax revenue in the first year of sales;
$223 to $287 million in direct state cannabis tax revenue in year five of sales;
$71 million in municipal tax revenue over five years of sales;
$21 million in municipal tax revenue in year five of sales;
10,244 to 17,462 new or preserved jobs by year five of legal sales; and
5,344 to 5,686 new or preserved jobs in year one of sales alone.
Medical marijuana program information; program expanded to include chronic pain
Connecticut’s medical marijuana program was originally enacted on June 1, 2012. The program protects patients and caregivers from arrest and prosecution if they have a valid registration card and if the medical marijuana was obtained from the specific dispensary where the patient is registered.
In 2016, both regulators and lawmakers expanded Connecticut’s medical marijuana program.
On June 2, 2020, the Connecticut Legislative Regulations Review Committee approved allowing medical cannabis to treat chronic pain — although it narrowly defined the term. The Board of Physicians recommended adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition on September 27, 2019. Previously, Connecticut was the only state medical marijuana program that did not permit patients to treat chronic pain with medical cannabis.
The revision permits medical cannabis to be recommended for adults with “chronic pain of at least six months duration associated with a specific underlying chronic condition refractory to other treatment intervention.” Unfortunately, that narrow definition means physicians can only recommend cannabis to patients who have sought treatment for their chronic pain for at least six months and whose pain has been resistant to other treatments.
The committee also approved the use of medical cannabis to treat Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an inherited disorder that weakens the body’s connective tissue and leads to weakened blood vessels and organs.
While these revisions undoubtedly expand patients’ ability to use medical cannabis to treat their aliments, Connecticut will have one of the most restrictive chronic pain provisions in the country. Patients will have to suffer for months before trying cannabis and will first be steered to far more dangerous medications.
For more information about the program, including a current list of qualifying conditions and symptoms, click here.
Since 2011, possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana has been a civil violation in Connecticut, punishable by a fine of up to $150, meaning it is not a jailable offense. Subsequent offenses are subject to increased fines ranging from $200-$500. Upon a third violation, offenders are referred to a drug awareness program. In addition to the fine, anyone under 21 who is found in possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana faces a 60-day suspension of his or her driver’s license.
Although Connecticut has improved its marijuana laws in recent years, adults are still being punished for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol, while most crimes with victims go unsolved.
Volunteer: To take your involvement a step further, volunteer! Let us know if you’re up for tabling, writing a letter-to-the-editor, phone banking, or otherwise getting more involved. We’re also looking influential voices in the debate — please be sure to fill out the form and let us know if you are a supportive member of clergy, law enforcement, educator, medical or substance abuse professional, veteran, or a person who was harmed by cannabis prohibition.