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Connecticut Special Session is Cannabis Legalization’s Last Chance in 2021
Jun 10, 2021 · 6 min
After years of trying, the Connecticut Senate narrowly passed a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use in the early morning hours on Tuesday by a 19-17 vote. But the legislative session ended Wedn ...
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Connecticut Special Session is Cannabis Legalization’s Last Chance in 2021

After years of trying, the Connecticut Senate narrowly passed a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use in the early morning hours on Tuesday by a 19-17 vote. But the legislative session ended Wednesday night without a House vote. There was, however, a promise to aim to take up legalization during a special session, according to House leadership.

House Speaker Matt Ritter said during a press briefing on Wednesday that he thinks lawmakers “have made one decision.” 

“We will be voting in the next week on that bill. Could be today, could be tomorrow, could be Friday, could be Saturday, could be Sunday. We will be getting that bill passed,” Ritter said, of the legalization proposal. “We all know what’s out there, and what leverage people have, and we’re still working through it.” 

On Tuesday night, Gov. Ned Lamont tweeted to praise the Senate for passing the bill in the early morning hours of that day, and noted that he looked forward to the House sending the bill to his desk. 

“The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety. That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity,” Lamont said, highlighting that legalization would “prioritize” social justice, equity and public health. 

“This measure is comprehensive, protects our children and the most vulnerable in our communities, and will be viewed as a national model for regulating the adult-use cannabis marketplace,” he continued. 

Support for legalization has been strong in Connecticut, from Lamont to the state’s residents, but lawmakers have been unable to get on the same page when it comes to the details. A May Sacred Heart poll showed nearly 64% support for legalization among Connecticut residents. 

This session, while adult use legislation was introduced in the Senate on behalf of Lamont in February, months of negotiations followed, resulting in a compromise bill unveiled last week: Senate Bill 1118, “An Act Concerning Responsible and Equitable Regulation of Adult-Use Cannabis.” 

The negotiations began, in fact, before Lamont’s proposal was unveiled, when lawmakers introduced bills outlining specific equity-focused aims for the adult use industry. One such example, as Cannabis Wire reported, was H.B. 6377, which called for home cultivation and required labor peace agreements, neither of which were included in Lamont’s original proposal but are now included in the compromise bill.

Both are also part of New York’s new adult use cannabis law, which keeps Connecticut in step with its neighbors. Since 2019, as Cannabis Wire reported, Lamont has emphasized the importance of “coordinated regional regulation” of adult use cannabis. Along with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, he led a Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit in late 2019. Since then, New Jersey, too, has legalized cannabis for adult use, and, if SB 1118 is signed into law in Connecticut, all three states will be at work on regulations in the coming months.

Lamont said in 2019 that he took a fishing trip with Cuomo to discuss policies that could be better implemented in concert, from cyber security to cannabis.  

“This patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all,” Lamont said at the summit. “My state of Connecticut, people cross the border. They drive up to Massachusetts where they buy some cannabis and bring it back, and that makes a real problem for our state police.” 

And during Lamont’s State of the State speech last year, the governor emphasized the policy and, specifically, enforcement hurdles presented by a patchwork approach with states in close proximity. 

“Right now, do you realize what you can buy legally in Massachusetts, right across the border, can land you in prison here in Connecticut for up to a year? Look, we just marked the hundredth anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out?” Lamont said, in reference to alcohol, during his address, which was met with laughter.

Under SB 1118, adults age 21 and older would be allowed to legally possess 1.5 ounces of cannabis in public, and they would be allowed to grow cannabis at home starting in July 2023 (up to 12 plants per household). Medical cannabis patients would be allowed to home grow as soon as this October. Sales are expected to begin in May 2022. A serving of cannabis will be defined at 5 mg. Flower products would have a THC cap of 30% and other products (except vapes) would be capped at 60%.

Half of the business licenses awarded of each type, such as cultivation and retail, would go toward equity applicants. The exception to this is the state’s four existing medical cannabis cultivators, who would be able to transition into the adult use program so long as they give $500,000 to social equity programs in the state and pay a $3 million fee, and existing medical cannabis shops that pay a $1 million fee. Also, a 15-member Social Equity Council would be created, and it would be in charge of allocating millions of dollars toward training, loans, and other social equity efforts.

Like New York, Connecticut would have a potency-based excise tax on cannabis products, which would be in addition to the state sales tax and any local taxes (localities can opt out of allowing cannabis businesses, except for delivery, and, if they want to ban sales, will need to do so by referendum). And, until mid-2023, that excise tax revenue would go toward the state’s General Fund, with the exception of up to $50 million that can be set aside for allocation by the Social Equity Council. After July 1, 2023, 60% of that excise tax revenue would go toward a Social Equity and Innovation Fund, increasing to 65% in 2026 and 75% in 2028. Also starting in July 2023, 25% of the excise tax revenue would go toward a Prevention and Recovery Services Fund. 

Those with convictions for the possession of four or fewer ounces of cannabis from January 2000 to mid-September 2015 would also see those convictions automatically erased after January 2023. 

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