Jack Kramer/ ctnewsjunkie
Jason Ortiz (Jack Kramer/ ctnewsjunkie)

BRANFORD, CT —Proponents of recreational marijuana legalization got some straight talk from one of their own Thursday who told them the votes aren’t likely there to see their dream realized this legislative session.

Instead, Policy Committee Minority Cannabis Business Association Co-Chairman Jason Ortiz implored supporters of legalization to “become a voting bloc.”

“We have to elect new people this November who are going to support legalization and work to vote out the people who are opposed,” Ortiz told a small gathering of pro marijuana advocates at the Branford American Legion Hall.

Ortiz was one of many speakers at “Ending Cannabis Prohibition in Connecticut – An Educational Forum” put on by Connecticut NORML.

Connecticut NORML is a state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

NORML’s mission is to repeal the prohibition of marijuana at the local, state and federal level by “educating those in our community about marijuana and hemp and their potential medical and industrial use, while promoting the responsible use of marijuana by adults.”

Ortiz told the group about his marijuana arrest at age 16, and his subsequent school suspension for 45 days.

“Expulsions and suspensions are the worst things you can do,” Ortiz said. “If you are 16 years old and you are home for 45 days, well, you can imagine what I did. I consumed a lot of cannabis.”

Ortiz said he believes marijuana legalization will be a “huge issue” in not just the legislative but also gubernatorial race this November.

But, he said, he doesn’t believe the House and Senate has the gumption to act on recreational marijuana before the end of this session on May 9 even though a bill that would begin planning for legalization of recreational was sent to the House after narrowly passing the Appropriations Committee by a 27-24 vote earlier this month.

Ortiz isn’t alone in that thinking as the two Democratic House leaders earlier this week basically said the same thing.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, “We tend to be reactionary. It (recreational marijuana legislation) will happen in next couple years.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowciz, D-Berlin, “Making it out of committee was a big step forward,” but conceded that it still faces obstacles when facing a vote in front of the full House or Senate.

Aresimowicz predicted, as did Ritter, that Connecticut will join the marijuana bandwagon “once its legal in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.”

The bill passed by Appropriations requires the Office of Policy and Management to develop a plan to legalize and regulate the retail sale of marijuana, and has no fiscal impact.

“It is anticipated that the agency has the resources to develop this plan,” the Office of Fiscal Analysis note states.

An October 2017 poll by Sacred Heart University showed that 71 percent of Connecticut residents support regulating and taxing marijuana for adults.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis 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.

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, D.C., and six other states, including Massachusetts and California, have since legalized marijuana — although D.C., like Vermont, does not allow recreational pot sales.

As of July 1, people in Massachusetts will be selling recreational pot. And soon to follow will be Maine, although no date has yet been set there.

Voters in Rhode Island could have a chance to send a big message about marijuana legalization this fall.

Under a new bill filed in the state House of Representatives, Rhode Islanders would be able to decide on a ballot measure to end cannabis prohibition.

Back in Connecticut, the General Law Committee on March 20 defeated a different bill — one that would have crafted a regulatory structure for recreational marijuana — by a vote of 11 to 6.

That bill didn’t technically legalize marijuana, but it would have legalized possession of up to an ounce and it would have allowed a person over the age of 21 to cultivate not more than six marijuana plants.

A proponent of legalization, Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, has said the House Democratic caucus is still 17 votes shy of passage. Democrats hold an 79-71 majority over Republicans in that chamber. There’s a vacant seat on the Democratic side due to the resignation of Angel Arce.