HARTFORD, CT — Gov.-elect Ned Lamont told Connecticut Public Radio listeners earlier this month that “legalizing marijuana is an idea whose time has come,” and with Massachusetts ready to start sales Tuesday advocates hope Connecticut is next.
“Connecticut took a big step forward when it decriminalized marijuana possession seven years ago, but prohibition is still causing problems,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “Until cannabis is legalized and regulated, illicit dealers will continue to dominate the market, and Connecticut will miss out on the job creation, tax revenue, and other economic benefits that will soon be experienced in neighboring Massachusetts.”
Advocates would like to see Connecticut legalize recreational marijuana during the 2019 legislative session.
It’s not a far-fetched idea any longer. Connecticut came close last year.
In 2018, six bills related to legalizing and regulating cannabis in Connecticut were introduced and four hearings were held on the issue. A bill that would begin planning for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut was sent to the House after narrowly passing the Appropriations Committee by a 27-24 vote.
A proponent of legalization, Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, said the House Democratic caucus was 17 votes shy of passage earlier this year.
But that was before the recent election when Democrats held an 80-71 majority over Republicans. Following the last election, they currently hold a 92-59 majority over Republicans in the House.
Elliott believes they will be able to get it over the finish line this year. He thinks it will happen if the Progressive Caucus gets behind it.
However, support for the issue didn’t always fall along party lines. Rep. Melissa Ziobron, a Republican from East Haddam, supported the measure. Her state Senate race is still undergoing a recount.
There’s also skepticism among some lawmakers about the social costs of legalizing marijuana use for adults and the fact that no test exists for impairment.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said it’s not a partisan issue.
“This is an issue that transcends party,” Candelora said.
He said they can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the mounting driving fatalities and increase in homelessness in Colorado, which legalized it in 2014. He said it’s also hypocritical to introduce another form of addiction to children while debating the opioid crisis.
The recent election will require a whole new set of calculations by both parties, but legalization seems to have some momentum.
Between the new leadership in the governor’s office, progress made in 2018, and Massachusetts’ adult-use market opening, advocates are hopeful that 2019 could be the year Connecticut replaces marijuana prohibition with regulation.
Connecticut voters have supported the measure.
An October 2017 Sacred Heart University poll found that 71 percent of Connecticut residents “strongly support” or “somewhat support” legalizing and taxing marijuana, in the context of the state’s budget crisis.
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.
Connecticut is still facing a substantial two-year, $3.8 billion budget deficit even after revenue projections came in last week better than expected.
Massachusetts will be the seventh state in the nation to establish a regulated cannabis market for adults. Retailers in Northampton and Leicester, Mass. are reportedly set to be the first to open. A total of nine states have enacted laws to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adult use. Lawmakers in Vermont and voters in D.C. adopted laws making marijuana possession and cultivation legal for adults, but not commercial production or sales. In Maine, they are expected to begin in fall 2019.
In Massachusetts, adults 21 and older will be able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from licensed marijuana retail stores, of which no more than five grams can be in concentrate form. It will remain illegal to consume marijuana in public.
Marijuana products sold for adult use will be subject to a 6.25 percent state sales tax and a 10.75 percent state excise tax, and municipal officials have the option of levying additional local taxes of up to 3 percent. A study released in June by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimated adult marijuana sales would generate more than $200 million for the state and up to $3 million for local governments in the first two years alone.
Connecticut already has a medical marijuana program, which includes four growers and nine dispensaries.
There are 31 conditions that have been approved for adults and eight for patients under 18 that can be treated with medical marijuana.
There are currently 29,543 patients in Connecticut’s medical marijuana program and 1,000 certifying physicians, according to the Department of Consumer Protection, which regulates the program.
It’s unclear how a recreational market might impact Connecticut’s medical marijuana market.
Dispensary sales for medical marijuana this year in Connecticut are projected to reach $50 million-$75 million, up from an estimated $30 million-$35 million in 2017, according to the Marijuana Business Factbook 2018.
The cannabis industry is growing.
The University of Connecticut will offer a class starting in January titled: “Horticulture of Cannabis: From Seed to Harvest.”
It will be taught by Gerald “Gerry” Berkowitz, a professor of plant science.
“Our students see career opportunities and want to gain experience. Businesses need highly trained scientists to support the growth of this industry, and they are seeking talented graduates to enter this workforce,” Berkowitz told UConn Today. “With this course, we can help both groups. It’s a win-win.”
UConn is one of several other colleges and universities responding to the growing industry.
The $40 billion industry is expected to support 414,000 jobs across the country by 2021, according to a joint report by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics released in January 2018.