The Connecticut cannabis industry begins to play political hardball

Apr 10, 2019

Connecticut’s General Assembly Judiciary Committee passed legislation that lays the foundation for a legal recreational marijuana program in the Constitution State.

SB 1085 outlines how marijuana might be legalized and regulated. The bill would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for residents 21 and older and require all cannabis-related purchases to be completed by scanning an ID.

Legislators would allow for a maximum possession of 1.5 ounces of marijuana but would ban people from growing cannabis in their homes. While home-grows would be out, cannabis convictions would be, too.

If the bill is passed as currently written, people previously convicted of pot-possession would have the right to petition the courts to have their criminal records expunged.

In a state where the medical marijuana business is booming, cannabis politicos can only hope that the legislature leans in favor of legalization.

The politicization of cannabis in Connecticut

Pro-cannabis advocates feel that the writing is on the wall when it comes to the legalization of cannabis. According to NECN Connecticut, the majority of Democrats in the state legislature support legalization.

Legislators feel that ending prohibition would help generate revenue and bring a successful conclusion to the “War on Drugs.”

“These laws were not appropriate at the time when they were permitted and now we’re sixty years into this prohibition and communities have been destroyed, neighborhoods have been destroyed for this unnecessary racist law that they put on the books after sixty years,” Sen. Doug McCrory told NECN.

Unfortunately, every Republican in the state legislature is opposed to the bill. They reportedly fear the consequences of legalizing cannabis, especially as it may lure in younger users.

State Rep. Tom O’Dea asked legislators to think of the children in a statement made to NECN.

“I would just ask my colleagues to think about the children because at the end of the day, adults can travel to Massachusetts, they can travel to New York, but let’s protect our youth for a little while longer,” O’Dea said. “Let’s see what the studies show over time.”

A history of cannabis in Connecticut

In June 2011, then-Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation which decriminalized cannabis possession to a $150 fine for a first offense. In a statement made at the time, Malloy said the move was not a path towards full legalization.

“Let me make it clear—We are not legalizing the use of marijuana,” Malloy said. “In modifying this law, we are recognizing that the punishment should fit the crime, and acknowledging the effects of its application… There is no question that the state’s criminal justice resources could be more effectively utilized for convicting, incarcerating, and supervising violent and more serious offenders.”

Exactly one year later, Malloy signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in Connecticut Since 2012, the medical marijuana industry has blossomed.

Even without the legalization of recreational cannabis, Connecticut cannabis sales currently fall somewhere between $50 to $60 million per annum. These sales are conducted at nine state-licensed, highly-regulated, medical dispensaries.

According to the New Hampshire Register, fiscally conscious cannabis advocates argue that legalization would “instantly” cause marijuana sales to multiply, bringing in potentially $100 million per year in tax revenue for the state.

The Constitution State currently has 13,000 certified patient-users of pot, with 1,000 physicians able to certify said patients. There are now 31 medical conditions which may be treated by marijuana for adults and eight for patients under the age of 18.

Cannabis has become so popularized in Connecticut that even professors of Plant Science, are talking about it. The University of Connecticut recently held a seminar featuring renowned Israeli researcher Hinanit Koltai speak profligate on potential cannabis uses, including treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The seminar was organized by the UConn Plant Science and Landscape Architecture Department and the Connecticut Cannabis Research and Innovation Center.

The CCRIC is an independent nonprofit organization that supports cannabis technology and innovation. Eric Zachs, the founder of CCRIC, is hopeful that seminars such as these can promote a legitimate cannabis market in Connecticut

“I really think we can make a difference in this state,” Zachs told the New Hampshire Register. “It’s medical research, and hopefully businesses come out of it.”

Cannabis’s chances in the Connecticut legislature

SB 1085 will be scheduled for a hearing with the Finance Committee later in the legislative session. If the bill passes from the Finance Committee, it will require ratification and passage by both the state house and the Senate.

While the bill is only one of dozens making their way through the legislative process in the Constitution State, many feel that this bill will be up for consideration by lawmakers.

If the medical marijuana industry is an indicator of potential cannabis-generated revenue, the people of Connecticut can keep their fingers crossed for cannabis.

(Photo: Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance)
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