University of Connecticut student Jennifer Purdon is not shy talking about what she termed Tuesday as her “daily use of cannabis.”
Purdon, who described herself as a double-major, honor student with a 3.6 Grade Point Average, said, “I just prefer it (marijuana) over alcohol.’‘
Her testimony at a forum on recreational marijuana legalization brought a raucous round of applause from the largely supportive crowd that packed a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. The informational hearing was sponsored by New Haven Democratic Reps. Juan Candelaria and Toni Walker.
This session, bills that would legalize the drug received the support of more than a dozen legislators, but neither were called for a public hearing by any of the three committees of cognizance.
“I think that the people deserve an opportunity or at least a forum to express their opinions on legalization,” said Candelaria, who also proposed a bill legalizing marijuana for those 21 years and older during the 2015 legislative session.
Legislative leaders, who’ve been grappling with how to cover large state budget deficits during a short legislative session, said this wasn’t the year to take up such a potentially contentious issue.
But proponents argue that the timing has never been more appropriate considering the state’s precarious fiscal situation. They estimated Connecticut could reap about $50 million in additional annual taxes if recreational marijuana was legalized.
Walker, who is co-chairman of the legislature’s budget-writing committee, said the revenue generated from a tax on marijuana would be deposited in the state’s General Fund, and some of it would be diverted for drug awareness education and efforts to curb abuse of opiates, alcohol, and other harmful substances.
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.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who successfully pushed for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in 2011 and legalizing the medical use of marijuana in 2012, isn’t supporting legalizing recreational use.
“I’m not a believer in it. I’m not a supporter of it,” Malloy said on Monday.
He went on to explain why.
“I think when you legalize marijuana you’re encouraging marijuana, and that’s not the place I want to go,” Malloy said.
Colorado Rep. Dan Pabon, one of the state legislators involved in crafting that state’s regulatory framework for recreational marijuana, was one of the speakers at Tuesday’s forum.
In 2015, Colorado sold $1 billion worth of marijuana, which generated $135 million in taxes.
Papon tried the lighten the mood at the hearing before beginning his testimony by telling legislators, “I didn’t bring any samples,” bringing a round of laughter from the politicians and the audience.
He then went on to say that when he first heard about the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana, “I was opposed.”
“But the world has changed,” said Pabon. “When Colorado voters finally voted on legalizing marijuana in 2012, it got more votes than Barack Obama got for president.”
Pabon continued that he is well aware of Connecticut’s precarious fiscal situation. “We are in a budget crisis in Colorado ourselves,” Pabon told legislators, adding, “You can’t ignore [the] money-making potential” of legalization.
He added that in addition to the sales tax benefit, Colorado also implemented a separate excise tax on recreational pot sales.
Another proponent of legalization at the hearing was UConn graduate Daniel Katz, who works at Curaleaf, a medical marijuana facility in Simsbury.
Katz said legalizing recreational pot has other benefits besides taxes. “Increased marijuana sales will also decrease the price for medical marijuana users,” Katz said.
There are plenty of opponents to legalization, however, besides Malloy.
The Governor’s Prevention Partnership, as advocates for drug-free children, has formed a statewide coalition to prevent the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut. Along with the Connecticut Association of Prevention Professionals and others, the Partnership urges lawmakers to consider the best interests of young people in the debate over legalization.
“Parents especially need to understand that marijuana is very harmful and addictive. It is not a natural, medicinal substance as many people think,” Jill Spineti, president and CEO of The Governor’s Prevention Partnership, said in written testimony.
Spineti said there are significant impacts on “a child’s physical and mental health, development and overall well-being” as a result of smoking marijuana.
“Many young people and their families have already been substantially harmed by marijuana in Connecticut,” Spineti added. “We are asking all state residents to help us fight legalization and protect our children from the negative consequences of using this powerful drug.”
Other opponents, included the Guilford Developmental Assets for Youth (DAY), a local prevention coalition from the town of Guilford that recently successfully lobbied town officials to ban medical marijuana applications from being considered even though no applications were pending.
Lisa Ott, co-chairman of DAY, said the group strongly objects to the “so-called” informational hearing on legalization of marijuana. She said the process is designed to be a sales job for legalization and is in no way fashioned to examine the hazards of marijuana for Connecticut’s youth.
“Big marijuana and those who are railroading the so-called informational hearing argue that there will be a tax windfall from legalization,” Ott said.
Ott pointed out that Colorado hasn’t reaped as much revenue from marijuana taxes as proponents have claimed.
“The revenue czar for the state [of Colorado],” Ott continued, “has announced that it is a myth that there will be a windfall to the state due to legalization. He states that the additional tax revenues will be offset by increased state expenses.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s office lowered the amount of revenue it anticipated from the marijuana tax the first year it was collected, according to a September 2015 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is tracking the legalization in that state.
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.