As surrounding New England states legalize recreational marijuana, Connecticut lawmakers have been under pressure to explore legalization. Some members of the General Assembly of Connecticut worry the state could be missing out on potential opportunities that legal marijuana presents, particularly in the form of tax revenue.
The current bill before the judiciary committee would create regulation for legal marijuana sales and a network of marijuana lounges, while also promoting diversity and small business development through a new state Liquor and Marijuana Control Commission.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney stands behind the legislation and says the bill would require the Department of Consumer Protection to boost applications from communities that “have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”
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“It is time we take the rational, commonsense approach to marijuana, as we did with alcohol: regulating and taxing it,” Looney wrote, according to the Hartford Courant. “We need to ensure that Connecticut is not left behind as our neighbors move forward with commonsense marijuana policy.”
One of those neighbors looming over Connecticut lawmakers is Massachusetts, which is set to have legal marijuana shops open by July of this year. Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana is advocating lawmakers to legalize retail sales of marijuana, so they don’t lose out on potential tax revenue.
“Massachusetts, Maine and now Vermont have moved forward with this policy and are regulating marijuana like alcohol,” the Coalition’s Sam Tracey told Rhode Island Public Radio. “Very soon people are going to be able to drive over the Massachusetts border and purchase marijuana legally if they are over 21. So Connecticut, if we stay with our current course of inaction, we are losing all of the tax revenue to Massachusetts.”
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But in the first vote by state lawmakers in recent years, an important legislative committee rejected legalization by an 11 to 6 vote Tuesday, according to the Courant. This isn’t a striking blow to Connecticut legalization, as the general law committee only focused on specific aspects of the bill, like how many plants an individual could grow.
“There’s still a lot of issues that are on the legislators minds, so I didn’t expect it to pass,” said Sen. Carlo Leone, who voted in favor of legalization. “I think the bill, as was mentioned, still has a long way to go but this gives us the opportunity to think for when that time comes, whether it’s now, or some time in the future or far off in the future. At some point, we need to have a framework.”
According to the Courant, state legislative committees have never voted in favor of legalization. In the past two years the initiative has failed without any formal votes being cast.