Democratic leaders in the Senate plan to raise a proposal legalizing recreational cannabis for a vote Monday, giving the high-profile bill a shot at passage before the legislative session ends Wednesday.
Lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration finalized months of negotiations into a nearly 300-page bill released over the week, which legalizes the use and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of recreational cannabis for people over the age of 21 beginning in July. Residents could have up to five ounces in their home or locked in the trunk of their car.
But with the session ending at midnight on Wednesday, the cannabis bill has a tight window for action and plenty of competition: both the Senate and House must still debate and pass a $46 billion, two-year state operating budget. Senate leaders said they expected to raise the bill in the early evening.
“It is our intention to take up the cannabis bill later today,” Senate President Martin Looney told reporters Monday. “We just had to confirm with the House that they do intend to take the bill up also.”
On Monday morning, House leaders said they planned to raise the bill Wednesday.
For the past few months a primary sticking point between Democrats has been debate over “social equity” elements of the proposal. In addition to clearing records of certain convictions related to cannabis, the bill seeks to ensure business licences are dolled out in a way that benefits communities impacted by the war on drugs.
Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said it took awhile, but policymakers have crafted an equity policy they believe avoids some of the pitfalls made in other states that have legalized the substance.
“We feel as though we’ve hit the right notes on equity,” Winfield said.
The current bill gives preference to “social equity applicants” when it comes to issuing licenses for growing and selling cannabis. Half of licenses would be reserved for applications from businesses owned at least 65% by people from areas with high rates of drug-related convictions or high unemployment rates. Social equity applicants will also have an income that is under 300% of the state median.
“This is a thoughtful process,” Winfield said. “It took us a little longer than we would have liked, I will admit that, but I think at the end of the day we have a process that deals with some of the issues that stem from the past, makes a good attempt at righting those wrongs and this a good bill.”
The bill includes provisions allowing home-grown cannabis: up to six plants per eligible resident, capped at 12 plants per household. It also has language allowing people working in the new cannabis industry to unionize. Proponents hope the legislation will result in retail sales of cannabis in Connecticut by May of next year, but concede the estimate may be optimistic.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said he did not see cannabis legalization as a partisan issue, but he was disappointed to see proponents moving the bill forward. He said the issue has been too focused on potential financial gains and not enough on whether it was good social policy.
“To a large extent all I hear from the proponents is that because all the neighboring states are doing it, Connecticut needs to do it too. But my mom always told me that just because your friends were doing drugs means that you can do them too– that wasn’t the argument that my parents taught me and it’s not something that should resonate here in the Capitol,” he said.
Kelly worried that the bill could have a negative effect on Connecticut’s defense contracting industry. The bill generally limits the extent to which an employee can be disciplined for a drug test that is positive for THC, but it carves out certain exemptions including for positions that require clearance from the Defense Department. Kelly said he still felt it could push defense industry businesses elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t want this to become an incentive to take jobs out of our state and relocate them to more favorable jurisdictions that follow federal law,” Kelly said.