Walker Strong / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT – Clergy members from throughout Connecticut stood on the north steps of the Capitol plead for the state to become the 12th in nation to legalize the regulation and taxation of marijuana for recreational use.

This convening stood in juxtaposition to another meeting of clergy at the Capitol last May, where they passionately pitched legislators to resist backing of legalization.

After failing to get a vote on cannabis legalization last year, state lawmakers renewed their efforts when Gov. Ned Lamont introduced SB 16. The bill which was referred to the Judiciary Committee would allow adults over 21 to purchase and possess up to one and one-half ounces of marijuana from a licensed retailer.

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A tax would be applied on all sales to collect revenue and redistribute portions of it throughout many of Connecticut’s communities most disproportionately affected by current marijuana policy.

Proponents argue that Connecticut cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and watch as neighboring states like Massachusetts benefit from the increased revenue streams that legalization brings.

Clergy gathered Tuesday at the Capitol, however, emphasized a sense of increased social justice and compassion for those affected by what they consider as a failed policy, as equally, if not more, important to their desire to see a potential bill passed by the end of this year.

Rep. Charles Stallworth, a senior pastor at East End Baptist Tabernacle Church in Bridgeport, supports legalization.

“Regulation would also free up resources so that police could focus on more serious crimes,” Stallworth stated, arguing that Connecticut’s current policy has failed citizens by incarcerating too many for minor possession while allowing more serious crimes to go unchecked.

Stallworth envisioned a successful legalization vote as being capable of “improving police community relationships” by engendering goodwill, while also utilizing a portion of the money collected from taxation “to help revitalize communities that have been disproportionately harmed by laws against cannabis.”

Walker Strong / ctnewsjunkie

Stallworth was careful to clarify that legalization would still entail the same expected level of personal responsibility for usage that is applied for alcohol sales. “We know that both of these substances could be abused, adults who use should be expected to take responsibility.”

Others present included clergy from out of state. Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, executive director of Clergy For a New Drug Policy, came from Chicago to lend his voice in hopes of inspiring Connecticut lawmakers. Illinois was the most recent state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Sharp emphasized a “help not punishment response to drug use,” and built upon Stallworth’s message by calling for the bill “to build social justice and social equity into the program.”

In support of this mission, Sharp referenced how the state of Illinois has pledged to redistribute 20-25% of its marijuana sale revenue back into communities most impacted by the war on drugs. Sharp detailed how “community colleges are beginning to offer courses in cultivation training and growing” to illustrate the intended positive spillover effect legalization can have on multiple facets of society.

There exists some evidence, however, that this plan for a redistribution of profits to go back into communities most affected and marginalized by current marijuana laws might not be as generous as it seems.

According to a Boston Globe analysis, a year and a half into Massachusetts’ recreational cannabis rollout, none of the $67 million in excise taxes and fees left over after paying for the cost of regulators has benefited either members of the minority community or police.

An earlier report from the Globe found that just six of 227 licenses granted by the cannabis commission have gone to entrepreneurs in the state’s social equity and economic empowerment programs.

Due to this finding, the commonwealth’s commission has promised to accelerate the application process for licenses coming from members of these programs for a two-year period.

Rev. Edwin Perez of Manantial de Gracia, United Church of Christ, in West Hartford also spoke at the gathering. Perez soberly recalled the outbreak of synthetic marijuana overdoses which afflicted the greater New Haven area during a prolonged period in August 2018.

Ultimately, emergency personnel took overdose victims on over 120 trips to emergency rooms over a three-day period. Stressing the ineffectiveness of prohibition on marijuana, or any substance, Perez implored for regulation so that customers can have a safe choice “instead of getting what they did not bargain for.” By empowering a populace to make educated choices, Perez argued that the legalization of marijuana will allow users to “be shown mercy and dignity.”