HARTFORD, CT — With the General Law Committee expected to raise the issue Thursday, both sides of the debate over whether to legalize marijuana tried to get ahead of the issue by making their arguments to the media.
At least two legislative committees are expected to raise legislation over the next few weeks that would allow for the retail sale and taxation of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.
The Connecticut Chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) released a report Thursday that says legalization of marijuana would cost the state $216 million in 2020. That’s more than the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis determined that the Nutmeg state could bring in from taxing sales of the drug.
OFA estimated last year that Connecticut could bring in $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year if it legalizes marijuana in the same way it’s been done in Massachusetts or Colorado.
CT SAM estimated the increased cost to the state would come in the form of an increase in the number of traffic fatalities, increased vehicle insurance rates, emergency room visits, homelessness, workplace injuries, and an increase in chronic absenteeism at work.
“We know we’re afraid of what’s going to happen if this gets legalized,” Guilford Police Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson said at a Legislative Office Building press conference.
He said the legalization of marijuana will make his job more difficult. He said it’s difficult to identify a driver who is under the influence of marijuana.
“We have science in place where we can determine who is driving under the influence of alcohol,” Hutchinson said. “We don’t have that in place for marijuana.”
Dr. Deepak Cyril D’ Souza, professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, said a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a relationship between marijuana use and traffic fatalities on April 20, which is a popular counterculture holiday.
“In many cities, activists and enthusiasts gather at public celebrations that feature synchronized mass consumption of cannabis at 4:20 pm,” according to the study.
He said using 25 years of motor vehicle data across the United States researchers found that on April 20 between 4:20 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. there was a 12 percent increase in the relative risk of a fatal traffic crash after 4:20 pm on April 20 compared with identical time intervals on control days.
“This is fairly compelling data because of the temporal relationship between the event, as in smoking marijuana, and the fatalities,” D’Souza said.
Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, who watched the press conference from the back of the room, said there’s no “concrete data” that shows the state would lose revenue or that traffic fatalities would increase.
“Fatalities are still going to happen. People are still smoking it,” Candelaria said.
But Candelaria said right now it’s not regulated so no one knows what it could be laced with.
He also said proponents are not advocating giving access to adolescents or youth and they’re not proposing driving under the influence.
“The bill that’s being drafted is for individuals 21 years and older,” Candelaria said. “If we do regulate, we will have the ability to take it out of the hands of the drug dealers with an incentive to get youth hooked.”
Nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational pot.
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.
Candelaria said he believes public support is on the side of legalization.
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.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said last year the legislature’s Public Health Committee didn’t even draft a bill to move forward after a public hearing.
He said he believes opponents jobs have gotten easier, even as the fiscal situation has become more difficult and has made legalizing it in order to tax sales more compelling for some.
“The science and the information out there at the public hearings proves our point,” Candelora said. “And helps our arguments.”
He said he hopes the revenue pressure “doesn’t force a bad decision.”
Last year, the House debated the issue for 90-minutes before it was tabled.