The deed has been done and the long wait is over. Sometime next year, Connecticut residents will be able to buy cannabis products without traveling to Massachusetts or meeting some guy behind a van in a fast-food parking lot.
As Gov. Ned Lamont observed in a statement last week, the 300-page Senate bill legalizing recreational marijuana was signed on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s now-apocryphal speech in which he declared drug abuse to be “America’s public-enemy number-one.” In the aftermath of a deadly pandemic which, as of this writing, has cost the United States more than 600,000 lives, Nixon’s words sound almost quaint.
Back on Capitol Avenue, there were a few kerfuffles along the way, as when, under threat of a Lamont veto, lawmakers had to strip out a knuckleheaded provision that would have expanded social-equity license applicants to just about anyone who had been arrested or convicted of cannabis-related crimes, or who has “a parent, spouse or child who has been arrested or convicted,” my colleague Hugh McQuaid reported.
The amendment did not consider the financial means of those convicted, paving the way — perhaps — for privileged white kids in dreadlocks to gain an edge as cannabis entrepreneurs over disadvantaged people of color. Lamont was right to threaten to put the kibosh on the bill and the General Assembly was right to acquiesce. Now it’s time to hammer out more operational details and stop the flow of perhaps tens of millions of dollars per year in revenue migrating out of Connecticut and into the Bay State.
A light moment surfaced this week when John Craven of News 12 asked Lamont if he planned to partake of the evil weed, to which the governor, who is known to be a fan of the Woodstock music festival, responded, “Time will tell. Not right now, but we’ll see.” One commenter on Twitter replied, referring to Lamont comms director Max Reiss, “See the look on his face, it’s clear Max didn’t prepare him for this type of question.”
Another amusing moment involving Lamont surfaced earlier this month when the governor joined a video call with former Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner, as part of Boehner’s effort to promote his new book, “On The House.”
Addressing Lamont’s relationship with the General Assembly, Boehner used a variation of the old expression, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Not that a Democrat-controlled legislature is the enemy of a Democratic governor, but Lamont has, among other issues, repeatedly tangled with those in his party who want to raise taxes on the rich.
His position is quite sensible. The state is flush with money from federal coronavirus relief, tax receipts are up and, while there are long-term structural revenue problems, the state is currently enjoying a healthy surplus. In other words, what is the point of raising taxes if you don’t need to?
“The governor is a Democrat and I think it’s time to back up that designation, that moniker if you will, with substance,” Sen. John Fonfara, who chairs the Finance Committee, said in April. Translation: real Connecticut Democrats want to raise taxes because — they can.
“Hug ’em,” Boehner advised Lamont, while acknowledging that the pandemic has made hugging impractical. Boehner further urged Lamont to focus on the possible. I’d say that’s good advice. It’s exceedingly difficult to accomplish anything as a chief executive without the cooperation of lawmakers.
I would add that it’s historically rare for Connecticut voters to elect a governor who has never served in the General Assembly. Now we’ve done it twice in a row, so building relationships with lawmakers becomes even more important.
Neither Lamont nor former Gov. Dannel Malloy was terribly close to the legislators in the LOB. Lamont did receive something of a burdensome reprieve from legislative relationship-building when the pandemic set in nearly a year and a half ago, rendering the General Assembly almost irrelevant through his endless executive orders.
Ironically, Boehner, who had a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, has, like Lamont, become an advocate for legal cannabis. The former pot-foe has joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a publicly-traded cannabis company based in New York. Boehner has also been known to give speeches advocating for legalizing the substance he once fiercely opposed.
Now the question is whether Lamont will run again and serve another term, or whether he will go gently into that good political night and play elder statesman, as Boehner does. As I’ve written before, if he decides to run for a second term, Lamont’s position on taxes could make some Republicans give him a second look — especially if former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (a.k.a. Rep. Eversource) is the GOP nominee.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at PolitiConn and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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