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Legalize It? Probably, But the Details Are Still Up For Debate

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As public hearings heated up in March, lawmakers were still debating how and whether to consolidate at least a dozen separate marijuana-related bills. The core issue, of course, is whether to allow the sale, possession and consumption of marijuana for adult recreational use. Connecticut would join 10 legal states, though not all allow retail sales.

Other issues in bills before the General Assembly include whether to strike marijuana-related arrests from a person’s record. That idea, advanced by Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, is part of a push for racial equity, as black and Latino residents, especially in poor cities, have faced disproportionately high numbers of arrests. Racial equity bills include making sure retail dispensaries hire people of color.

Racial equity is not a side issue in the minds of several of the leading advocates for adult use, including Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, who said he would not support an adult-use bill that lacked measures to address it.

Elliott and others entered the 2019 legislative session, which ends in early June, with optimism for passage because Gov. Ned Lamont favors it; Democrats elected a majority in the Senate and a larger majority in the House; the state’s medical marijuana program has expanded again and, by all accounts, is running smoothly; and lawmakers recognize that many Connecticut buyers are crossing the line to Massachusetts.

Still, no one in early March had a reliable prediction and no unified bill was written.

Other bills would allow medical patients from other states to buy in Connecticut; allow medical patients to grow their own plants; add chronic pain and opioid addiction to the list of treatable conditions; and allow physician assistants to certify patients.

On the side of adding controls to marijuana, bills in the judiciary committee included allowing landlords to bar marijuana use; protecting employers who fire people for testing positive; and setting limits for THC content in the blood of a driver, equal to the level in Colorado.

Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey are four of eight states identified by the Marijuana Policy Project as most likely to legalize the sale of pot to adults for recreational use in 2019. In March, New Jersey appeared to be nearing a vote on the issue. Massachusetts began adult-use sales in November after legalizing in a 2016 ballot referendum.

This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.