Courtesy of CT-N
Rep. Sean Scanlon introduces the amendment (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT — With bipartisan support last week, lawmakers amended the marijuana taxation bill to require that an unspecified amount of money be set aside from legalization to treat mental health and addiction issues in all of the state’s communities.

The amendment was approved by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

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It was introduced by Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who has been a staunch advocate for funding programs to treat the opioid epidemic.

Scanlon said that if recreational marijuana is eventually legalized that he “absolutely agrees” with the need to distribute some of the funding taken in to distressed communities, which is what the original bill mandates.

However, Scanlon added, if pot is legalized then a portion of the money taken in by the state should be distributed to those treating “mental health and abuse issues in any municipality.”

As to how much money would be distributed, when asked by other committee members, Scanlon said that was yet to be determined.

Elaborating on his position after the committee vote, Scanlon added: “Since we are the Finance Committee, the bill before us was not to legalize marijuana but rather to say that if legalization happens, this would be the tax structure.”

Under the original proposal, “100% of the revenue from legalization would go toward economic development in distressed communities,” Scanlon said. “I wholeheartedly agree that we should be building up communities disproportionately impacted by decades of misguided criminal justice policy but I also have serious reservations about legalization from a public health perspective and I offered this amendment to ensure that, should we legalize, a portion of the revenue will now go toward mental health and substance use disorder treatment.”

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, accepted it as a friendly amendment and it was approved by a voice vote.

While he went along with the amendment, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he found it ironic that the committee was willing to vote to allocat money to create social programming to fight against a drug it is considering legalizing.

“That’s how terrible the notion of marijuana addiction is,” Sampson said.

Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, also supported Scanlon’s amendment, stating: “If the legislature decides to legalize there is going to be some social fallout just as there was when we legalized gaming.”

The bill that would tax adult cannabis sales and distribute part of the revenue to underserved communities with the amendment attached now advances to the full Senate for consideration.

The bill, which passed 29-21, would establish a state gross receipts tax of 6.35% on retail cannabis sales for adult use and a 3% local sales tax on retail sales.

All of the state tax revenue would be distributed to the Community Development Corporation Trust Fund, which funds early literacy education and community development corporations that focus on improving the lives of people living in economically distressed and underserved communities.

Local tax funds would go to the localities where the retail sales occurred.

“We applaud the committee for advancing this legislation, which is both forward-thinking and mindful of the past,” said Kebra Smith-Bolden, co-director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana (CCRM).

Smith-Bolden added: “It very thoughtfully proposes the state direct the revenue from legal cannabis sales to the communities that have long borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition. This boost in much-needed resources to underserved communities promises a safer and healthier future for all Connecticut residents.”