HARTFORD, CT — Advocates of legalizing recreational marijuana use still believe it’s the right thing to do, which is why they held a press conference again Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building.
As lawmakers look to pass a two-year state budget, cannabis supporters are still fighting for a chance to be included. But state Rep. Josh Elliott said they are still 17 votes shy of approval within the House Democratic caucus.
“It comes up virtually every caucus and not by the same people,” Elliott, a freshman Democrat from Hamden, said. “And it’s hard to tell if there’s any movement on it.”
He said Democrats have been losing seats for six years and “you would think that people in our caucus would want to jump onto something that’s got 63 percent support.”
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. The university has not done any polling on Connecticut issues since June 2016.
A bill that would have legalized the drug was debated and then tabled by the House in June.
Eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational pot.
For Rep. Robyn Porter, a New Haven Democrat, it’s a social issue.
“Yes, we have a budget problem in Connecticut that’s persistent,” Porter said. “But more importantly for me, it’s a social issue.”
She said black and brown people are being sent to jail for non-violent offenses and crimes that have only impacted themselves.
She said they were caught with marijuana for personal use and “were caught up in a system designed to decimate, as far as I’m concerned, people who look like me.”
But it’s not only Democrats who support legalization.
There’s also Republican support for the proposal.
Rep. Melissa Ziobron, a Republican from East Haddam, has been a vocal supporter of legalization. She watched the press conference Tuesday.
And while the social issues in favor of legalization have been articulated by proponents, the bigger motivator this year may be the revenue that regulating the drug could generate for the state.
Connecticut’s Office of Fiscal Analysis has determined that the Nutmeg state could bring in from $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year if the legislature legalizes marijuana in the same way it’s been done in Massachusetts or Colorado.
The June 28 Democratic budget proposal said it would bring in $60 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019.
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.
In June he said that “so far it doesn’t appear to have support in the legislature so on this I’m not saying never, but it’s not something I’ve advocated.”
Elliott said that Democrats, more so than in past years, are giving the governor’s veto power a lot of deference.
“I’m seeing a lot less fight against this governor and a lot more respect of that veto power,” Elliott said.