HARTFORD, CT — Clergy from across Connecticut came to Hartford on Friday to make a passionate pitch to legislators to resist backing the legalization of recreational marijuana.
While bills calling for legalization have made it through various committees, none have been called for a vote or even a debate on the House or Senate floor. And the clock is ticking toward the end of the legislative session at midnight, June 5.
The group of clergy on Friday urged legislators to resist the temptation or promised dollars that legalization would bring to the cash-starved state, stating that the cost of legalization would far outweigh the benefit.
One of those legislators was Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who was in attendance at the press conference and has been a consistent voice against legalization.
“This has to do with quality of life and other social impacts,” Candelora said. “Connecticut is going in the wrong direction with legalization and I hope we are able to stop it this session.”
Currently, not a single Republican in either the House or Senate has said they would support legalizing recreational marijuana, but those votes wouldn’t be needed if all or even a vast majority of the Democrats in the House and Senate voted to legalize.
But those votes — at least right now — don’t seem to be there, even though recent polls have indicated that a majority of Connecticut residents favor legalization.
And the clergy in attendance at Friday’s press conference mean to keep it that way.
“Don’t let big money mess with our kids,” said Abraham Hernandez, pastor for the Second Star of David Christian Church in New Haven.
Hernandez also urged legislators to “not fall for the rhetoric” they’ve heard from some proponents — that legalization would address the issue of minorities being arrested as a higher rate than caucasians.
‘“That rhetoric really stirs us,” Hernandez said. “Our residents are being misled and it’s just not right.”
Also imploring the legislators to “just say” no was the Rev. Carl McCluster, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport.
“I wear a tie every day but I took my tie off today because it’s time for a fight,” McCluster said.
McCluster said he was ready to fight the “thugs who have come into our community, into our state, to advocate for activities to destroy our youth.”
McCluster said he might be “on the streets today” if he didn’t straighten himself out after “at age 16 some of my friends enticed me to try marijuana.”
McCluster said the high from pot wasn’t enough for him so he moved on to harder drugs, a concern he said he has for youth today if marijuana is legalized in Connecticut.
He also said he can’t stomach the argument that if marijuana is legalized that some money should be spent on funding drug addiction programs.
“So we’re going to get the money from marijuana and we’re going to use part of it to treat the problem that the money creates,” McCluster said incredulously. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
A bill which passed the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee last week by a vote of 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 deposited into the Community Development Corporation Trust Fund to pay for things like 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.
An amendment was attached to the bill stipulating that an unspecified amount of funding taken in from legalization would be set aside to treat mental health and addiction issues in all of the state’s communities.
Proponents stress that the amendment was put into place to ensure some of the money is spent on helping with such services only when and if recreational marijuana is legalized.