Lawmakers in Connecticut on Tuesday approved a bill that could pave the way for marijuana legalization in the state—but time is running out.
The legislation barely passed out of the state Senate, with a narrow vote of 19-17 in favor sending it to the state House.
But as the CT Mirror put it, it remains “unclear if the House had the votes, time or inclination to attempt final passage before the constitutional deadline of midnight Wednesday, a task that grew more difficult Monday with concerns over attempted favoritism on licensing growers.”
The Mirror reported that the fate of the much anticipated bill hung in the balance deep into Monday.
“Only the vote cast by a retired police officer, Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, saved the Senate from needing Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz to break a tie. Six Democrats voted with the other 11 Republicans in opposition,” the Mirror reported.
“But for 11 minutes after the debate ended and voting began, passage was unclear. The tally was 16-16, with four Democrats missing: Steve Cassano of Manchester, Douglas McCrory of Hartford, Patricia Billie Miller of Stamford and Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport. Moore voted yes, making the tally 17-16 after nearly eight minutes. McCrory, who was furious at the Senate for striking a provision he wanted, cast a yes vote three minutes later, pushing the vote to 18-16 in favor. Miller, who said she long had been opposed to legalization, cast the 19th yes vote. The victory assured, Cassano cast a final no vote.”
In line with other states that have already approved legalization measures, the bill passed by the Connecticut senate would make it legal for adults 21 and older to buy and possess marijuana.
The new law would take effect at the start of next year, with the regulated market expected to open later in 2022.
With members of the Connecticut House up against a tight deadline—and the legislature clearly divided on the issue—legalization advocates may find themselves waiting another year before prohibition ends in the state.
Lawmakers in Connecticut Are the Biggest Allies
One such advocate is the state’s governor, Ned Lamont, who used his State of the State address in February to push for legalization.
“Now our neighboring states are offering recreational marijuana on a legal and regulated basis,” Lamont said at the time. “Massachusetts dispensaries are advertising extensively here in Connecticut. And, rather than surrender this market to out-of-staters, or worse, to the unregulated underground market, our budget provides for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
Lamont, a Democrat, noted that the additional revenues would “go to distressed communities, which have been hardest hit by the war on drugs.”
“Half the tax revenues should be allocated to PILOT payments, in addition to a three percent local excise tax option. And importantly, my proposed legislation authorizes the automated erasure of criminal records for those with marijuana-related drug possession, convictions, and charges,” he said.
Later that month, Lamont introduced a bill to be taken up by the legislature.
The legalization effort in Connecticut has been marked by fits and starts. In 2019, Lamont and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo embarked on a cross-state legalization policy.
But while New York has forged ahead, passing a legalization bill earlier this year, Connecticut may find itself one of the last remaining northeastern holdouts. It was something Lamont telegraphed in his State of the State address last year, when he once again called on the state to legalize it.
“Like it or not, legalized marijuana is a short drive away in Massachusetts and New York is soon to follow,” said Lamont. “Coordinated regional regulation is our best chance to protect public health by displacing illicit sellers with trusted providers.”