Connecticut legislators reject marijuana legalization bill — but other bills are still pending

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Activists supporting the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut suffered a setback with the defeat of H.B. 5458 today.

A bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana in Connecticut failed to advance out of the General Assembly’s General Law Committee today, despite last week’s public testimony in favor of the legislation.

Eleven legislators voted against the bill that would have allowed people over the age of 21 to purchase marijuana at retailers or “lounges” while letting residents grow up to six marijuana plants as individuals and up to 12 per household. Just six legislators voted in favor of the bill, including all three of the committee’s co-chairs.

The vote comes just days after a major public hearing by the committee, in which the vast majority of written and oral testimony was in favor of legalization.

At that hearing, Sam Tracy, director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, told reluctant lawmakers that legalization can actually help make communities and even children safer by reducing the access teens have to marijuana.

“Right now on the black market, drug dealers don’t card,” Tracy said last week. “They don’t care if you’re 19 or if you’re 21.”

Today, Tracy told 50 States of Blue he is disappointed by the outcome of the General Law Committee’s vote.

“I think it is really unfortunate that the committee didn’t approve this so it would be able to move forward to full floor for a larger debate,” he said.

However, the fight for legalization in 2018 is not over yet.

H.B. 5458 was one of just five bills related to marijuana legalization currently moving through the legislature. Although the General Law Committee’s bill has failed, one of those other bills could still make it the floor for the full debate.

“We certainly would have preferred [this bill] to be approved by the committee, but there are many other bills to be working on this through,” Tracy said.

A public hearing on S.B. 487, the Judiciary Committee bill on the legalization and taxation of marijuana, was held yesterday and another public hearing is scheduled for March 28 regarding the Appropriations Committee bill H.B. 5394 on legalization and regulation.

Tracy said he and other activists will be at that hearing to demonstrate “public support and educate lawmakers.”

He remains optimistic about the prospects of legalization in Connecticut this year.

“I feel really positive,” he said. “I really do think this could be our year and that’s for two big reasons: Massachusetts and Vermont.”

Massachusetts, Connecticut’s northern neighbor, is set to begin legal sales of recreational marijuana this July. Vermont’s governor signed a bill legalizing recreational pot in January.

“Whether Connecticut legislators like it or not, Connecticut residents will be able to purchase marijuana with just a quick drive” once the sales begin, Tracy said.

That means Connecticut will soon be dealing with all of the potential issues around legalization without any of the potential benefits of additional jobs and tax revenue.

That’s a point echoed by some state legislators who voiced their support for the failed General Law Committee bill at a press conference last week.

“[P]eople can take a 20-minute drive across the border, buy their recreational cannabis, and come back to the state — no repercussions because it’s been decriminalized here — and all that’s happening is that marijuana has become de facto legalized in Connecticut but now we’re losing out on the revenue,” Democratic state Rep. Joshua Elliot said.

Vermont’s successful legalization bill may also improve Connecticut’s odds of legalizing soon.

Vermont is the first state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana via the legislature rather than by a public ballot initiative. Since Connecticut does not have a ballot initiative process, legalization is only possible by going through the legislature.

Tracy said he hopes now that Vermont has cleared the way, Connecticut legislators and Gov. Malloy will feel more comfortable putting their names to a legalization bill.

“Being ‘the land of steady habits’, sometimes we don’t like to be on the cutting edge of things,” he said.