On Monday, the Judiciary Committee approved three bills that seeks to legalize cannabis possession for adults 21 years and older and also expunge prior drug convictions.
After a spirited, hour-long debate, the three bills narrowly got through with 21 votes against 19 votes. Surprisingly, the bill that is now heading to the Senate was opposed by at least three Democrats who joined Republicans in doing it.
Just a week after the General Law Committee, the Judiciary Committee narrowly passed three cannabis bills, which established a regulatory framework for sale and production.
At the moment, Connecticut state has medical marijuana program that serves more than 33,000 patients.
According to some proponents of legalization like Sen. Gary Winfield, most residents of Connecticut support the effort.
Most of the residents in Connecticut are supportive of the legalization of recreational marijuana, “the members of the public are in support of our efforts.”
According to a poll done in 2018 by Quinnipiac University, 59 percent of voters favors the move to have adults in Connecticut to legally possess small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
“It is important for bill to be passed through the Committee, so the General Assembly can discuss the issue,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Democrat who together with Winfield chairs the committee.
However, the bill did not pass without any opposition either, as many opponents claimed that legalizing marijuana is normalizing it.
Sen. Alex Bergstein, (the vice-chairman of the Committee) and the Republicans used the phrase “legalize it and normalize it.” Bergstein said that she could not support the bill since she is a parent to young children.
“It is hard me to support the bill that seeks to legalize marijuana, considering that I am the parent to three teenagers. If it is legalized our kids will not understand why it could be bad to them.’ Since legalizing something is normalizing it,” Bergstein adds.
Most of the lawmakers who voted against the legalization bill claimed that it passing it would send the wrong signal to young people, especially during a time when Connecticut is in the middle of a fight on opioid epidemic. Besides, they were also disregarding that the move would generate more revenue for the cash-starved state.
“The bill is not mindful of our youth,” said Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon.
“The cost of passing the bill will outweigh any possible financial gain,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield added.
By legalizing marijuana, Connecticut would be joining “a race to the bottom,” explained, Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck.
However, Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport was pissed off by the negative comments and he pointed out the most important part of the bill is that it would pardon people with prior convictions. He and other lawmakers feel that these convictions have unfairly targeted people of the color.
“Marijuana is available in every community in Connecticut and trying to claim that they believing otherwise is naive. “And we are talking about cannabis not cocaine or heroin here.”
Besides, the lawmaker expressed his frustrations that those opposed to the bill were not at least criticizing the marijuana law enforcement strategy and it is a racist initiative that needs to be completely ended.
Some of those who voted for the bill said that the bill had some glitches that needed to be fixed as it moves forward.
“Listing of strict levels on THC amounts is one of the few things that I would like to see included in the bill,” said Sen. Will Haskell, D-Wilton.
The two of the marijuana-related bills passed by the Committee, included one that would ensure that allowed the employers to mandate that cannabis could not be smoked at a workplace, while the other one would establish an equivalent of DUI test for driving under pot influence.
New Hampshire House passes a bill that seeks to legalize marijuana last week that now heads to the Granite State’s Senate. On the other hand, the legalization bill failed in New Jersey legislature, though the proponents are still hoping that they can revive it and table it again. Both Illinois and New York are still debating on the legislation.
Gov. Ned Lamont believes that lawmakers will legalize the use of marijuana for recreational use in Connecticut.
According to Lamont, leaving marijuana sales to the black market will be dangerous and irresponsible. He then said that legalizing it is the safest way for the state to proceed as it allows for adoption of carefully regulated approach.
A number of states have already legalized the use of recreational marijuana, including California, Maine, Alaska, Washington, Michigan, Washington D.C, Vermont, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Vermont was among the states that did it legislatively.