HARTFORD, CT — Vermont became the ninth state Monday to legalize recreational marijuana and the first to do it through the legislative process. The eight other states where it’s legal approved it through a referendum.
It’s too soon to tell whether Connecticut will follow in its footsteps, but it could be feeling the squeeze. Massachusetts is expected to move forward with commercial sales in July.
The Vermont legislation would also start July 1 and allow possession of up to 1 ounce and two mature and four immature plants by anyone 21 and older. The bill does not allow for commercial sales of the substance.
Connecticut legislators who want to legalize pot have said they will bring it up during the upcoming General Assembly session, though some said they aren’t confident it will make it through the legislature.
The law’s passage was somewhat complicated by news in recent weeks that the Trump administration, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded Obama-era policies that allowed states to move forward with state-level legalization with minimal federal interference, even as pot remained illegal at the federal level. But the news did not appear to deter Vermont lawmakers.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first to legally allow pot for recreational purposes. Washington, DC, and six other states, including Massachusetts and California, have since legalized marijuana — although DC, like Vermont, does not allow recreational pot sales.
As of July 1, Massachusetts will be selling recreational pot. And soon to follow will be Maine, though no definite date has yet been set.
“We are surrounded by states that have or will be legalizing recreational marijuana,” Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, said recently.
Ziobron has been a vocal supporter of legalization and has submitted a bill for the upcoming legislative session.
And she has company in the state legislature.
“The time has come — for sure,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, another proponent for legalization said recently. Looney has sponsored legislation legalizing recreational marijuana in the past and he said he likely will again in the upcoming session.
In Connecticut, even though 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, efforts to legalize pot in the cash-strapped state of Connecticut have failed the past few years.
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, 2017, 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.
Ziobron said she is hoping that the issue is taken up early in the legislative session that starts in February “and then gets a full airing.”
“We should not be doing this at the end of the session when the discussion always inevitably becomes one about money,” she said.