Now that Maine and Massachusetts have voted to become the first places on the East Coast tax and regulate marijuana, advocates are watching a trio of nearby New England states to see which will be the next to legalize.
While Rhode Island and Vermont are strong contenders, new signs from legislative leaders in Connecticut indicate that the Constitution State could go legal first.
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D) has already pre-filed a bill to end cannabis prohibition. While the legislative text hasn’t yet been drafted, the placeholder description says it would “permit the retail sale of marijuana, tax such sale in the same manner as the state of Colorado and provide that revenue from such taxation goes to the General Fund.”
And on Thursday, incoming House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter (D) wrote in a constituent letter obtained by Marijuana.com, “I do support the legalization of marijuana and agree that a different approach is needed in our State.”
Also on the House side, staff for new Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said that a legalization bill will at least get serious consideration this year.
Spokesman for incoming House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz confirms recreational marijuana bill will get a full public hearing in new session
— Mark Davis (@markdavisWTNH) December 15, 2016
Connecticut lawmakers in recent years have already successfully decriminalized marijuana possession and legalized medical cannabis, both with the strong and vocal support of Gov. Dannel Malloy (D).
However, Malloy isn’t a fan of going any further, calling full legalization “a mistake.”
But he has also given mixed signals, saying shortly after Massachusetts and Maine passed their legalization measures that “when multiple states move in a direction you have to re-examine your own personal thoughts on the issue… I do have to re-examine that position in light of our very large shared border.”
While Malloy isn’t ready to champion legalization, vetoing a bill passed by the legislature would likely prove an unpopular move. A 2015 Quinnipiac University poll found that 63 percent of Connecticut voters support legalizing cannabis for personal use.
Pro-legalization lawmakers are framing the idea as an economic benefit to the state.
“I think obviously it is something that there could be a substantial revenue benefit,” Looney said.
And Rep. Juan Candelaria (D) said that if Connecticut moves swiftly enough it could even beat neighboring Massachusetts to the punch in getting legalization off the ground — especially since lawmakers in the Bay State recently voted to delay legal sales by an additional six months.
“We have a fiscal crisis in the state of Connecticut,” Candelaria told CT News Junkie. “Do we want to see tax money that we so desperately need leaving our state and being spent in Massachusetts? No, we don’t.”
The Connecticut General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session convened on Wednesday and is expected to run until early June.
Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives but there is an even 18-18 split with Republicans in the Senate. However, with support from tie-breaking Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat, the party is effectively in charge.
That doesn’t mean Republicans are ready to roll over and let Democrats enact their agenda without a fight. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, for example, recently called Looney’s legal marijuana bill “problematic.”
In addition to possibly legalizing marijuana, legislators will consider tweaks to the state’s existing medical cannabis law this year. One House member, for example, has already introduced a bill to waive the program’s registration fees for military veterans.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.