Connecticut’s General Assembly to Offer Wide-ranging Marijuana Bills
Connecticut's Marijuana Bill

Connecticut’s General Assembly to Offer Wide-ranging Marijuana Bills

With different states working on full legalization or making cannabis accessible to their deserving residents, Connecticut appears to be among the next state on the list. There are wide-reaching bills in three different committees in the General Assembly that are expected to form the basis of the full legalization of cannabis for retail sales and recreational use. This is according to the Democratic committee leaders’ announcement made on Thursday last week.

The current regulatory framework does not include provisions for backyard cultivation of cannabis and a potentially divisive issue for the members at this point. However, the lawmakers will be required to go through a raft of complex legislation that could yield about $170 million annually in taxes if enacted and once it is implemented.

According to leaders, the full legalization of marijuana will allow the current producers under the state’s medical cannabis program extra capacity that could provide retail cannabis in the first months. The anticipated development is expected also to see three tiers of new growers (large, medium and small operations) overcome the initial regulatory hurdles.

The bill will be offered by the Judiciary, Finance committees and General Law and will overlook criminal records for possession of small amounts of cannabis. Moreover, the bill will include a tax rate for sales with an option for cannabis licenses to cover inner-city communities, which have been affected by the racially disproportionate law enforcement and a standard for driving while under the influence.

“A critical part of the bill allows people convicted of cannabis possession to show sworn affidavits or police reports to state judges. The judges could then expunge criminal records for possession of up to an ounce-and-a-half of marijuana amounts,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport (Judiciary Committee co-chairman.

In addition, another bill would offer protection to the rights of employers to prohibit the use of the substance by their workers. The legislation would allow people less than 21 years of age to possess up to an ounce-and-a-half of cannabis.

Apart from protecting the rights of the employers, the bill will also allow the town to restrict or prohibit marijuana sales. However, another General Law Committee’s Co-Chairman, Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden believes that enough locations could be found to support retail sales if cities and towns were given financial incentives accommodate growers, packagers and retail outlets.

“The legalization of a substance that has been considered illegal for over 80 years is a process that has to have lots of complications,” added D’Agostino, who is also a member of the committee that will discuss the regulatory framework of the program. “But this just marks the beginning of the process.” Moreover, the draft legislation does not allow cultivators to sell marijuana to the public.

On the other hand, the Co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee, Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, announced that he was planning for a tax program. The program will be similar to the one in use in Massachusetts, to allow Connecticut residents to obtain legal cannabis. This tax program will include a 6.25 sales tax, 10.75 percent excise tax and potentially 3 percent local option.

While addressing the reporters during an afternoon news conference, Rojas announced that is planning to a tax program similar to that in Massachusetts with an overall rate of around 20 percent.

The administration of the tax program would be funded by the revenue and fees, which the co-chairman anticipates would be reviewed after every two to three years to gauge its success. Under state law, the levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana will also be limited. D’Agostino further stated that he hoped that highest levels of THC, which are responsible for the psychotropic effects, would be reserved for the current 30,000 medical-program patients.

While it remains to be seen whether enough support can be mustered for the marijuana bills in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, the comprehensive legislation would be administered in a new agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, within the Department of Consumer Protection in the state, similar to the state Liquor Control Commission. Consumer Protection has run the state’s successful medical-cannabis program since 2012.

Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that a key component of the bill would allow those convicted of marijuana possession to show police reports or sworn affidavits to state judges, who could expunge criminal records for possession of amounts up to an ounce-and-a-half of cannabis.

Another bill would protect the rights of employers to prohibit the use of the drug by their workers. The legislation would allow those under 21 to possess up to an ounce-and-a-half of marijuana.

The legislation would also allow towns to prohibit or restrict marijuana sales, but Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, told reporters that he believes if towns and cities were given financial incentives to host growers, packagers and retail outlets, enough locations could be found to support retail sales.

“Legalizing a substance that has been illegal for more than 80 years is a complicated process,” said D’Agostino, whose committee will consider the regulatory structure of the program. “This is just the start of the process.” Under the draft legislation, cultivators could not sell marijuana to the public.

Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee, said he is planning for a tax program similar to Massachusetts, a destination in recent months for Connecticut residents to obtain legal cannabis. Rojas is planning on a 10.75 percent excise tax, a 6.25 sales tax, and a possible 3 percent local option.

“We want to be somewhat close to Massachusetts in terms of taxation and having an overall rate of about 20 percent,” Rojas told reporters during an afternoon news conference.

Fees and revenue would help fund the administration of the program, which he anticipates would be reviewed after two to three years to measure its success. Levels of THC, the active chemical in the drug, would also be limited under state law. D’Agostino said he hoped that the highest levels of THC, which creates the so-called high – the psychotropic effects – would be reserved for the current 30,000 medical-program patients.

While it remains to be seen whether enough support can be mustered for the marijuana bills in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, the comprehensive legislation would be administered in a new agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, within the state Department of Consumer Protection, similar to the state Liquor Control Commission. Consumer Protection has run the state’s successful medical-cannabis program since 2012.

According to Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, legalization of cannabis market could help make illegal marijuana market impotent, which is currently estimated at $350-million-a-year. International cartels and local gangsters dominate the underground cannabis market. Rep. Juan Candelaria has for years unsuccessfully attempted to push for the legalization of cannabis for adult use.

Candelaria expressed his excitement for equity, as the new bill would make it eligible for those have been arrested today to get involved in the market. “I would like to have the assurance that the revenue generated in this bill to be reinvested in the communities,” he said. “Besides, would also like to ensure that marijuana is not accessible to children. Remember, children have access to it in our schools currently because of the underground market.”

“First we will consider individuals that have suffered under the drug laws over the years since the larger part of this particular legislation focuses on ensuring equity moving forward,” clarified Rep Elliot, D-Hamden. Rep Elliot is a cannabis supporter who is serving among other members in the Finance Committee. “Apart from the financial component, the bill would also focus on recognizing those who have been affected by the component that is meant for the fight on drugs.”

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