Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved by Committee

Legislation to legalize marijuana was passed recently by the Connecticut Joint Committee on General Law.

House Bill 7371 was passed by the committee in a 10 to 8 vote, reports High Times. The measure must now be passed by the full Senate and House before it can go to the governor’s desk.

If the measure is passed into law it would legalize and regulate commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and sales in the state, while companion measures to tax cannabis and allow for expungements of past convictions are being considered by different committees.

A supporter of the bill,  Democrat Rep. Juan Candelaria, said that regulating marijuana will provide a source of new revenue to benefit residents of the state.

“We have a black market and we stay idle and do nothing, that black market is going to continue to thrive,” said Candelaria. “The opportunity for us to regulate this market and utilize these dollars and really invest them … in addiction care, that goes a long way.”

According to High Times, much of the debate over HB 7371 centered on social equity provisions of the measure that would give members of communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs incentives to participate in the cannabis industry including reduced license fees and priority in the application process. Sen. Douglas McCrory, also a Democrat, said that the bill should right injustices inherent in the prohibition of cannabis.

“No one can dispute that cannabis prohibition was racist from its intent,” McCrory said. “We have a policy that’s been left over from the Jim Crow era.”

McCrory added that simply legalizing cannabis did not go far enough.

“When you put a knife in the back of a person – in this case, an entire community – for 80 years and you start to take it out, that’s not complete. That’s not how you help a community that’s been devastated for 80 years,” he said. “You take the knife back and there’s still a hole there. If we pass this bill – OK – now how do we remedy the hole? You have to be equitable.”

Rep. Geoff Luxenberg compared social equity in cannabis to affirmative action programs and reparations for Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War ll.

“When we’re undoing a vast racial injustice, it’s not enough to say ‘We fixed the policy and everyone starts at a level playing field,’” said Luxenberg. “Because everyone’s not starting at a level playing field … we cannot legalize this industry and not provide economic opportunity for the people who have been most harmed. It’s wrong from a civil rights perspective and it’s wrong from a policy perspective.”

Republicans on the committee including Sen. Kevin Witkos did not support the social equity provisions and voted against the bill.

“To place someone that has been arrested for a crime above law abiding citizens by a panel that will consider who will get these licenses to me just doesn’t seem right,” Witkos said. “What kind of message are we trying to send to folks who are doing the right thing?”

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