For the second time in eight days, the state Senate passed a bill legalizing recreational cannabis Tuesday but even before the votes were cast, Gov. Ned Lamont’s office threatened to veto the legislation.
Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, issued a statement promising a veto about a half-hour before the Senate voted 19 to 12 in favor of the bill, which in many ways resembled the proposal approved by the chamber last week and never raised by the House. It included one change, however, involving social equity that the governor’s office opposed.
“The amendment approved by the Connecticut State Senate to adult use cannabis bill this afternoon, simply put, does not meet the goals laid out during negotiations when it comes to equity and ensuring the wrongs of the past are righted,” Mounds said in a statement circulated to reporters as the Senate was still debating the bill.
The section related to the definition of an equity applicant. Months of negotiations between the legislature and the governor’s office have been directed at ensuring that communities impacted by the war on drugs get a fair stake in cannabis business licenses. Under both bills, half of all licenses would be issued to social equity applicants.
Up until now, equity applicants have had a geographic definition: someone from areas with high rates of drug-related convictions or high unemployment rates or whose income is under 300% of the state median income.
However, an amendment Tuesday added people who have been arrested or convicted of cannabis charges – or have a parent, spouse or child who has been arrested or convicted to the list of equity applicants.
“Senate Bill 1201 now allows just about anyone with a history of cannabis crimes or a member of their family, regardless of financial means, who was once arrested on simple possession to be considered with the same weight as someone from a neighborhood who has seen many of their friends and loved ones face significant penalties and discrimination due to their past cannabis crimes,” Mounds said.
The amendment came after conversations with members in the House, including Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven. The amendment, which was changed before the bill passed, would have allowed a person in a wealthy community with a conviction for cannabis to be considered an equity applicant.
Porter did not return requests for comment Tuesday and it’s unclear if the House will still take up the bill Wednesday as planned.
As far as the veto is concerned, “That’s the governor’s prerogative. I don’t know what else to say,” Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said following the vote. Winfield said lawmakers attempted to iron out differences with the governor’s office. The Senate stood at ease during the conversations, some between Winfield and Mounds outside the Senate chamber.
When the debate resumed, lawmakers adopted another amendment, which still fell short. The new language adopted would have allowed a wealthy individual who is a parent, spouse or child of a person arrested or convicted for cannabis in a certain census tract to still be considered an equity applicant.
“We were making an attempt [to address Lamont’s concerns],” Winfield said. “Clearly, by him saying he would veto it, we didn’t hit the target.”
Republicans generally found most of the changes agreeable, while still generally opposing the legalization bill
“The modest changes that occurred to the bill we did last week are negligible, if not somewhat positive, but it’s not going to change my view at all regarding the underlying bill in its totality,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said. “The amendment takes an – what I perceive to be an ultimately bad bill and makes it somewhat better.”
Sen. Dan Champagne, a Vernon Republican and former police officer, said the bill was a drug dealer’s dream.
“When I look at people that have been arrested for violating a crime and saying we should give them a leg up, we should give people who broke the law a leg up, but then again, I think that’s what this whole session has been – erasing criminal records, free phone calls, and the list goes on. It’s surprising,” Champagne said.