HARTFORD, CT — It appears efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in the state of Connecticut have failed.
The last chance to get committee backing for legalization was the Judiciary Committee, but the bill isn’t expected to be on the agenda for Friday’s meeting, which is the committee’s last.
Sources say the committee didn’t have the votes for passage of Senate President Martin Looney’s bill to legalize recreational cannabis for those over the age of 21.
Looney’s was one of several proposed bills to legalize pot this legislative session. Other bills were raised by the Public Health Committee; however none passed.
Advocates say the time has come for Connecticut to join the eight other states and Washington, D.C. in legalizing recreational use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age.
Connecticut’s Office of Fiscal Analysis has determined that the Nutmeg state could bring in $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year in revenue if the legislature legalizes cannabis in the same way Massachusetts or Colorado.
Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut voters, or 63 percent, support making possession of small amounts of cannabis legal for adults, according to a March 2015 Quinnipiac University poll.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly stated that legalizing recreational use “isn’t a priority” for him, though he added he would follow the progress of proposed legislation.
While acknowledging Wednesday afternoon there wasn’t the votes in the Judiciary Committee to move the bill along, Looney said the fight to legalize recreational pot isn’t over.
“At a time when our state budget is in need of new sources of revenue, I doubt this will be the final conversation on the topic,” Looney said.
The concept, which has had at least two public hearings, could still be raised as an amendment to another piece of legislation, including the state budget.
“I believe that Connecticut is ready for a rational, common-sense approach to the legalization and regulation of marijuana,” Looney said Wednesday.
He said states across the country are “reaping the financial benefits of marijuana regulation. With our neighbor Massachusetts poised to be the next state to implement a legalization plan, Connecticut is in danger of being left at a financial disadvantage,” Looney said.
The proposed bill will raise approximately $18.5 million in the first six months of collections, $83.4 million in the following full year of collections, and $135 million in the third year from these taxes, according to Looney.
Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, conceded the House Democratic caucus is “really split” on the matter.
“It’s a very difficult issue,” Aresimowicz said. “It’s one of those issues that straddles that line because it has a social impact and it has an economic impact, which makes it very difficult.”
There’s also a generational divide.
“You talk to folks of a certain age and they say, “Hey it’s marijuana what’s the big deal?’ But then you talk to other folks that for one reason or another have been involved in their communities and anti-drug programs and it’s a severe issue,” Aresimowicz said.
For him personally, Aresimowicz said, “I wouldn’t want to pass recreational marijuana in the state of Connecticut strictly for fiscal reasons.”
Asked if Massachusetts’ decision to legalize marijuana made Connecticut take the issue more seriously, House Majority Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said, “yes.”
“It changed the conversation,” Ritter conceded. If “I live in Enfield. You can drive one mile” to Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts legislature delayed implementation until 2018.
During public hearings on the matter, Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said legalizing pot “will diminish the quality of life in the state.”
Salvatore said he’s talked with police officials in Colorado, which was the first state in the country to legalize recreational cannabis, and the feedback he gets isn’t good.
“Increases in crime, increases in homelessness, and many panhandlers in streets in areas that were once night resort areas are now decaying and they’re losing convention business,” Salvatore said. “So there are other costs a municipality or a state will incur if do they legalize recreational marijuana.”
Salvatore said states that have legalized recreational use have seen “increased expulsions, suspensions and dropout rates.”
Proponents of the legislation say there is research that shows that’s not the case.
Becky Dansky, legal counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said research shows that there has not been an increase in teen cannabis use in states that have legalized marijuana.
She said there are eight states and Washington D.C. that have legalized marijuana, but Colorado often gets mentioned as an example because it was the first. She said teens in Colorado used marijuana at a higher rate than teens in other parts of the country before legalization, so it’s not a fair comparison.
Also imploring the General Assembly to continue the prohibition on recreational use was Guilford High School junior Gabby Palumbo, who is a member of Guilford DAY (Developmental Assets for Youth), a group active in substance abuse prevention initiatives at both a local and state level.
She said legalizing cannabis would “send a wrong and hypocritical message.”
Palumbo said it would, first, be telling young people that smoking pot is OK. Second, she said, it would send the message that “revenue outweighs public health concerns.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.