HARTFORD, CT — An attempt to call a revised, bipartisan recreational marijuana amendment for a vote in the House hit a bump in the road Monday when the lead House Republican said her Democratic counterparts crafted the amendment without her input.
A Monday morning press conference called by Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, and Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, was first delayed and then abruptly called off after Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, walked out.
Ziobron, who is a proponent of legalizing recreational cannabis, said she walked out of the press conference because she received the draft legislation “at 9 this (Monday) morning even though I’m told the legislation has been being worked on since last Friday.”
Ziobron, who was visibly upset before she stormed out of the press conference, was overheard by those in the room several times telling Elliott and Candelaria that she was “upset by the process” of how the legislation was rolled out.
Interviewed shortly before the start of the House session, Ziobron elaborated.
“For this legislation to pass the House it needs to truly be a bipartisan effort,” she said. “For me to be left out of the process until the last minute is just wrong.”
Besides being upset with the process, Ziobron said there were parts of the revised language of the bill that she found troubling and would have objected to “if I was given the opportunity to share my opinion.”
In particular, she said one clause which said that $10 million of the money raised by legalizing recreational cannabis would have gone to studying its effects, as something she likely would not support.
Elliott offered his “apologies” to Ziobron after the press conference was called off, adding he hoped the hard feelings could be smoothed over and that the bill could still be called by the House.
The bill Ziobron sponsored directs the Department of Consumer Protection to establish a regulated system of cultivation and sales for adults 21 years of age and older. The Department of Revenue Services would create a tax structure that would generate revenue for the state and certain municipalities.
There were several bills to legalize recreational use, but none made it out of committee. Democrats included the idea as part of their budget proposal and Democratic lawmakers were working to craft an amendment to another bill that would allow for legalization.
The legislative session ends Wednesday, so there’s not much time left for a debate on the issue.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Monday that his members felt very strongly about legalization and wanted a debate.
He said the fact that it was included in the budget was a good sign because it meant that legislative leaders were taking the issue seriously.
“The reason we did that was to encourage the debate,” Aresimowicz said. “They are preparing an amendment. At some point it will run.”
He said there is no agreement about when that would happen.
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 marijuana in the same way Massachusetts or Colorado.
The Democratic budget proposal said it would bring in $60 million in revenue in 2018 and $100 million in revenue in 2019.
The potential for making money off cannabis was clearly one of the biggest reasons recreational use seems to have a better chance of making it through the legislature this year than in the past, as the state struggles to make up a huge budget deficit.
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 has added he would follow developments if and when a bill legalizing recreational pot makes it through the House and Senate.