A bill aimed at growing an equitable legal cannabis industry advanced out of the Labor and Public Employees Committee Thursday afternoon preserving a proposal some have framed as an alternative to legalization efforts by Gov. Ned Lamont.
The legislation has been championed by the committee’s co-chairwoman Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven. Unlike Lamont’s bill, the proposal allows for home-grown cannabis plants. It also creates a workforce development pipeline for people with marijuana-related convictions and includes provisions to ensure workers in the new industry can unionize.
Sen. Julie Kushner, co-chairwoman of the panel, said those provisions “really do put us in a position as a state to ensure that when we are regulating and bring in new industries that we’re doing it in a way that intentionally– intentionally supports good jobs with good benefits and brings equity to our state.”
The labor committee’s Thursday vote assures the bill’s survival past the panel’s deadline for voting on bills next week. The governor’s bill is being considered by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which has until April 9 to forward the bill to the Senate.
Porter and other advocates have claimed the governor’s legalization bill does not go far enough to make sure the communities most damaged by the prohibition of the drug benefit from its legalization.
The Lamont administration has tried to frame the two proposals as complementary rather than competing. Both bills continue to be works in progress. The labor committee modified its bill before passing it Thursday. A clerk said the changes involved, among other things, the expungement of criminal records and driving under the influence laws.
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said Thursday he expects the governor’s office will offer modifications to its own proposal in response to feedback heard during a public hearing in February. Rojas said he did not view the two bills as necessarily incompatible.
“The focus on equity was more subtle in the governor’s bill, clearly. It’s more explicit in the labor bill, but I don’t think that makes them oppositional,” he said. “At the foundational level, people are in agreement about approaching this through an equity lens. There’s probably not as much consensus about what equity means or what it looks like.”
Finding that consensus will involve “painting a picture” of equity for people, Rojas said. Is it limited to the expungement of criminal records — which both bills attempt in some form — or does it extend to monetary investment and control over who gets business licenses? he said.
There was some debate over those issues during Thursday’s committee meeting. Several Republicans said they opposed the bill’s technical aspects like its regulatory and equity provisions if not its legalization of cannabis.
“The problem I have with this bill is it really adds too much baggage to decriminalizing, legalizing, regulating. Too many– higher taxes. It’s made it a social justice equity thing and added in the labor preferences,” Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Granby, said.
Rep. Harry Arora, R-Greenwich, said he did not want to see a cannabis industry expand in Connecticut but nonetheless remarked that the “elements of regulation imposed on this industry are pretty much a disaster and are going to hurt the industry.”
“I will respond by saying elements of this legislation are needed because of the disproportionate impact and damage that it has done to Black and Brown and poor communities. It does need to be regulated in a way that provides equity to those who have been harmed the most,” she said.