Two state lawmakers are seeking to legalize and tax the sale of recreational marijuana in Connecticut. They want it to be seen as a revenue generator and boon to the state’s economy.

Reps. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, and Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, have both proposed bills to legalize marijuana this session. The state has made significant changes to its marijuana laws in recent years. It established a medical marijuana program in 2012 and decriminalized small amounts of the substance in 2011.

Courtesy of the House Democratic caucus
Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford (Courtesy of the House Democratic caucus)

But the lawmakers say its time for Connecticut to follow states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, where voters have legalized the drug.

“Any state in the Northeast that follows Colorado can really solve its fiscal problems,” Vargas said in a phone interview Thursday. “Maybe the bonanza only lasts a few years while the other states catch up, but I think it would really be a shot in the arm of our economy.”

The proposals come at a time when nearby states are expected to consider the idea. Here in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing a series of criminal justice reforms that include reducing the severity of nonviolent drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

However, Malloy has been opposed to legalizing marijuana. In a Thursday statement, his spokesman Devon Puglia cited Malloy’s sentencing reforms and said “the governor has said that he would not push for the legalization of marijuana.”

Candelaria said he was hoping to make a convincing argument to Malloy. In an interview, he said the state Consumer Protection Department was already regulating the substance through the medical marijuana program and its legal sale would take business away from drug dealers. He also pointed to the $1.3 billion budget deficit the state is facing in 2016.

CTNJ file photo
Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven (CTNJ file photo)

Legalization is “going to happen sooner or later no matter what. It may not happen in this legislative session and it may not happen in the next, but I’ll tell you, within the next five or 10 years we’re going to see it in Connecticut. Let’s jump on the bandwagon now. We need it today, not five or 10 years from now. We need to close a budget deficit today,” he said.

Between the two bills, Vargas said the issue should get a public hearing this year. He predicted such a hearing would attract considerable public testimony. He said it was time society viewed marijuana use the same way it views alcohol and tobacco use.

“We know tobacco and alcohol are abused and cause damage to people’s health,” he said. When people abuse them, “we look at it as a failure of character or a public health issue. We don’t look at it as a criminal issue. I believe that marijuana and other drugs down the road, should be viewed as a public health issue.”