Get ready for traffic jams, Connecticut. No, not on the Merritt Parkway or I-84 in West Hartford. But I-91 and Route 7 into Massachusetts. And a word to the wise: you’d better not return with bloodshot eyes and a bag of Doritos on the center console if the state police in Canaan or Windsor Locks pull you over.
Unlike some trending migrations, this particular exodus out of Connecticut will be fleeting. It won’t be fueled by wealthy residents fleeing to a low-tax state in the Sun Belt. No, this one will be comprised of regular folks going out of state for an hour or two to pick up a bag of goodies for the weekend.
Welcome to 2018, when a law finally takes effect that was passed by Bay State voters two years ago. That ballot measure legalized the use, possession, and sale of recreational marijuana. It passed by more than six percentage points. Sales should begin later this summer. To its credit, Connecticut did legalize medical marijuana in 2012.
As a longtime Connecticut resident who has worked as a journalist in Massachusetts since 2013, I keep a close watch on these kinds of things. I’m convinced that the only reason reason recreational pot has not been fully legalized here is that Connecticut has no way for rank-and-file citizens to petition to get propositions on a statewide ballot.
By my count, eight of the nine states (and D.C.) that have so far legalized recreational use have done so as a result of voter initiatives. Click here for a handy guide. Only Vermont did so exclusively through the legislative process. That’s not a coincidence.
Lawmakers, who as a class of people aren’t the bravest bunch on the planet to begin with, are mostly terrified of having their fingerprints on any move to legalize recreational pot. In the unlikely event that there is an epidemic of young tokers in every middle school from New Milford to Voluntown, legislators want to be able to shrug and say, “The people spoke. We had nothing to do with it.” Indeed, the urge to avoid responsibility is even greater than the lust for revenue, which is sort of shocking when you consider how much the political class in Hartford loves to spend money.
According to revenue projections for the sale and taxation of recreational weed from state Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, “Connecticut could generate about $50 million in the first year of operation; $100 million-plus in the second year.” And of course, if the legislature would allow municipalities the option of adding their own sales taxes, millions in badly needed revenues could be obtained for cash-strapped municipalities and their schools.
But under the current system, Connecticut, which has become something of a fiscal laughing stock, will simply cede that revenue to Massachusetts and, eventually, Rhode Island and perhaps New York, where billions in revenue are predicted. The out migration of cash will happen unless something is done by the General Assembly in Hartford.
It appears that some Connecticut entrepreneurs aren’t content to wait around. Two brothers from the northern part of the state, Brian and Andy Vincent, have traveled to the Berkshires to start a cannabis business they’re calling Commonwealth Cultivation. They have an application pending for a cultivation facility in Pittsfield and are in the early stages of trying to open a retail outlet in Great Barrington.
Full disclosure: In my day job, I covered the Vincents’ appearance before the Great Barrington Planning Board earlier this month. The purpose of the meeting was to conduct a site plan. The major obstacle to approval was that the Vincents did not present a site plan. As one of our drollest readers observed, “I can imagine the conversation in the car beforehand … ‘Dude, I thought you had it!’”
To be fair to the Vincent brothers, who work at the family insurance agency in Enfield, they don’t strike me as stoners. Like so many others in the Bay State, they’re businessmen who see an opportunity. They were probably too busy complying with the list of rules put out by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to put much time into fussing with the local regulatory regime.
Much of the opposition to adult-use cannabis, which is the term for recreational marijuana preferred by industry professionals, is that consumption will skyrocket among teens. But the studies that have been conducted on the subject have proved contradictory or inconclusive.
But a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that risky behavior among U.S. high school students in general has dropped considerably over the last several years. Since 2007, for example, the reported use of illicit drugs by teens has declined by nine percentage points. Believe it or not, the only risky behavior that’s on the rise among teens is they’re refusing to eat their vegetables.
After the new year when the next legislative session begins, Connecticut lawmakers had better get with the program. And don’t use the sanctimonious excuse that the government shouldn’t condone bad behaviour by legalizing it. The state runs its own numbers game for compulsive gamblers, for crying out loud. You know, it’s that Robin-Hood-in-reverse program called the lottery.
Lawmakers will have to decide whether to acknowledge the reality that Connecticut pot smokers and even entrepreneurs like the Vincent brothers will not only spend and invest their money elsewhere. They will, in effect, become Massachusetts taxpayers who happen to live in Connecticut. That’s a helluva way to run a railroad.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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