House leaders plan to run a version of the recreational cannabis legalization bill Wednesday, undoing part of an amendment adopted Tuesday night by the Senate in an effort to avoid the veto threatened by Gov. Ned Lamont.
House Democrats spent the morning meeting behind closed doors, trying to navigate an increasingly convoluted path to legalizing recreational cannabis. For the second time in eight days, the Senate passed the proposal Tuesday night, but this time the chamber amended the bill, changing its social equity provisions enough that the governor promised to veto it.
On Wednesday morning, a proponent in the House described the caucus meeting as an emotional “crescendo.” But leaders emerged with a plan: remove the provision Lamont objected to and send the whole package back to the Senate for a third vote.
“We laid out different scenarios and the overwhelming majority said, ‘It’s been eight years. We had a deal, let’s pass that bill,’” House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
The questionable provision was added during Tuesday’s Senate debate. Among a number of other changes was a section that would have broadened the definition of social equity applicants — who get preferential access to half of all cannabis business licenses — to potentially include wealthy relatives of anyone who has previously been arrested on marijuana charges.
The section was proposed by Sen. Gary Winfield, D- New Haven, in part at the request of progressive proponents in the House, including Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven. House leaders said they were not consulted before the Senate adopted the provision. House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said he supported a similar provision when the Judiciary Committee passed a cannabis legalization bill during the regular session.
“There was going to be a lot of emotion about this bill, there was going to be a lot of ideas on this bill and that the vote count was always going to be very, very close,” Rojas said. “Senator Winfield and I have spoken. We remain friends, we remain trusted colleagues. Sometimes you make decisions that you think is in the best interest of something and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I think we’re ready to continue to move forward.”
The House plans to restore the old definition of equity applicants — someone from areas with high rates of drug-related convictions or high unemployment rates who has an income that is under 300% of the state median.
Leaders said they planned to preserve other elements of the amendment adopted by the Senate. The bill includes new language barring members of the legislature from obtaining cannabis licenses for at least two years after leaving office.
The expected House action will require the Senate to reconvene to take up the issue of cannabis for a third time. Senate leaders left the option open when they wrapped up proceedings Tuesday night.
“We’ll have to again talk to our members when we hit critical mass,” Senate President Martin Looney said Tuesday. “I know people are planning to be away. … We’ll have to just do a poll of our members and find out which is the best day to come in again if we have to.”
Earlier in the day, Lamont said he expected the House to change the bill and give him something he could sign.
“I think you’re going to see the House go back and pass what was the originally agreed upon bill and I think we’re going to get something passed,” Lamont said.