House Republicans signaled Tuesday they were prepared to launch a lengthy fight against a cannabis legalization bill passed by the Senate earlier that morning, jeopardizing passage of the long-anticipated bill in the final 36 hours of the session.
With the session adjourning tomorrow at midnight, the Senate left the House little time to act on the high-profile issue when it passed the bill on a narrow 19 to 17 vote at around 2 a.m.
Although House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters Tuesday he was confident his chamber would find time to pass the bill – in special session if need be – it will be competing for time with a two-year state budget package.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Democrats should prepare for at least a 12-hour debate if they raise the cannabis bill. Candelora said the bill had been “tarnished” by backroom negotiations by Democrats which led to the inclusion of a provision which seemed designed to benefit a single individual. The Senate removed that provision through an amendment Monday, but Candelora said its initial inclusion was evidence the bill needed greater scrutiny.
“When the light was shined the cockroaches scurried,” Candelora said. “We need to reset the clock on this piece of legislation.”
The provision would have allowed a former backer of a medical cannabis producer to apply for a cultivator’s license without participating in the bill’s lottery system to ensure fair access to licenses. It was requested by Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, who declined Tuesday to discuss its purpose.
“I’ll talk about it – and what the intentions were – once the bill passes, but not today,” McCrory said.
Candelora said the provision tainted the bill and reflected a 300-page policy crafted behind closed doors by one party. He called the drafting process “outrageous.”
“The governor’s office should never have agreed to that provision and the fact that it was even written and filed on the system and almost passed into law tarnishes the entire bill and it’s reprehensible,” Candelora said.
During an afternoon press conference Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont agreed the provision should not have been in the bill. But he said the problem had been solved already.
“If we hadn’t caught it that wouldn’t have been good. We caught it, got it out of there. It’s a good bill. Vote for it,” Lamont said.
In a statement, Ritter said if the House did not vote on the bill before the midnight deadline, he was prepared to call a special session right away.
“If we can’t agree to vote this important legislation up or down, we will immediately call ourselves into special session,” Ritter said. “Whether we vote at 9 p.m. on Wednesday or 9 a.m. on Thursday depends on whether all sides are willing to set aside their differences and vote.”
Asked about the possibility of the legislature taking cannabis legalization up Thursday after the end of the regular session, Lamont said it was up to the legislature.
“If they want to talk for eight hours, talk for eight hours and go to a special session. If you want to make up your mind and vote, do it on a timely basis,” he said.
Candelora said he would not attempt to limit debate on a lengthy bill which Republicans had not seen until just a few days ago.
“Bills of these magnitudes require that kinda debate and I am not going to ask my members to have a bill that was drafted in secret, thrown on our plates on a Saturday night before the end of session, to tell them to stand down, you’re not allowed to speak your voice,” he said.