Ten Democratic lawmakers, including two from New Haven, are hoping their colleagues will entertain a debate this year about legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
With other surrounding states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island considering legalization, Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said he wants Connecticut to benefit from being the first state in the northeast to legalize it.
The state has made significant changes to its marijuana laws in recent years, establishing a medical marijuana program in 2012 and decriminalized small amounts of the substance in 2011.
Lemar, along with Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, who is the main sponsor of the legislation, say it’s time for Connecticut to follow states like Colorado, Washington, Alaska, D.C., and Oregon, which have legalized marijuana through ballot measures. Connecticut doesn’t have the ability to put public policy on the ballot for voters, but recent polls show voters support the concept, including a Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in March 2015 that found 63 percent of voters support legalization.
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,” Candelaria has said.
But it’s an uphill battle.
Lemar said the chairs of the Public Health, Judiciary, and Finance Committees have so far declined to hold a public hearing on the bill. Last year a similar bill was raised and there was no public hearing.
“It’s about time we get honest about what’s happening in our communities,” Lemar said Friday.
Marijuana is available now, but it’s not being regulated or taxed by the state.
And even though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy supported decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and helped establish the state’s medical marijuana program, he’s not in favor of legalizing it for recreational use. He said so Thursday at an unrelated press conference: “I’m not in favor of legalizing marijuana.”
He said he thinks they did the right thing in 2011 by decriminalizing it, which has led to 8,000 fewer arrests per year. The following year the state made marijuana available for medical treatment, “but that’s as far as I’m comfortable going,” he said.
“Certainly, every legislator is entitled to their own opinion and we’ll see what happens,” Malloy added. “It’s not my proposal.”
In 2015, Colorado sold $1 billion worth of marijuana, which generated $135 million in taxes.
The revenue in Connecticut would be much smaller, but still helpful to closing an estimated $570 million deficit. If there was a sales and excise tax on marijuana like there is on tobacco and alcohol, it would probably generate between $10 to $20 million, according to Lemar.