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After Maine Marijuana Legalization, Conn. Also Looking At Recreational

The East Coast marijuana legalization victories in Maine and Massachusetts may have a greater impact as the U.S. shifts to a more marijuana-friendly nation.  Why?

Last Thursday, Massachusetts officially legalized marijuana, making it the first state east of Colorado to do so. The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act allows people to carry up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as to keep up to 10 ounces in their homes.

“The tone has changed since Massachusetts have passed their referendum on marijuana legalization. So I think it is an opportunity (for) Connecticut to move forward with this legislation, New Haven Democratic State Rep. Juan Candelaria told WWLP. “If we really want to tackle the issue I think we can have legalization ready to go by the end of the fiscal year,”  Candelaria added.

“What we are seeing is Cannafest Destiny — an unstoppable wave of legalization is moving from the West Coast to the East Coast,” said David Rheins, founder and executive director of the Marijuana Business Association. “The majority of Americans recognize that the War on Drugs has been a terrible failure, and the states are quickly learning that legal cannabis brings with it jobs, tax revenues and increased tourism.”

When four states voted in November to legalize recreational adult use of marijuana, most of the media attention was laser focused on California and, to a lesser extent, Nevada.

There is no doubt that California was the big enchilada for the cannabis industry: The Golden State is the world’s sixth largest economy and most analysts forecast that the state will garner nearly $4 billion in tax revenue by 2020. Many called California’s resounding vote a game-changing tipping point for the industry.

And on Monday, a recount in Maine was aborted, meaning the vote to legalize will move forward.

What is so groundbreaking about these two states passing progressive cannabis laws is that it puts pressure on the neighboring states to move in that direction. Why would a state struggling to balance its budget walk away from tax revenue its neighbors are collecting?

Other states in the Northeast are also keeping a close watch on what happens in Massachusetts and Maine. As 2016 winds down, here is what 2017 could look like in New England:

Connecticut

Rep. Candelaria has been fighting for marijuana reform and has introduced a recreational laws for the past two years. His proposals, to date, have yet to get a public hearing. But he is confident that 2017 will be different.

Joe Aresimowicz, the state’s incoming Speaker of the House said Candelaria’s proposal will get a full public hearing in the new legislative session that starts next month. I’m going to be pushing very hard,”Candelaria said. “I’m going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing.” Gov. Dannel Malloy has stated in the past that he is opposed to legalization.

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a legalization bill in 2014, but the bill went nowhere in the Senate. In 2016,  three legalization bills were filed, but two were rejected and the third is stuck in committee.

Of all the New England states, New Hampshire appears to be the most entrenched in its opposition to progressive marijuana legislation. But the state shares its entire eastern border with Maine and its southern border with Massachusetts. So citizens of New Hampshire will have easy access to legal cannabis and their tax dollars will be going to the government coffers of the neighboring states. At some point, the economic pressure may be too much for even the most hard-headed politician.

Rhode Island

For the past five years,  Rhode Island legislators have filed legalization bills to no avail, but there are signs that 2017 will be different. A bill in introduced earlier this year had 17 co-sponsors (out of 38 senators), and the House bill had more than 30 co-sponsors. The concept had bipartisan support in the state, with Republican House Leader Brian Newberry openly championing the idea.

“Talk to any high school kid and they’ll tell you it’s easier to get pot than alcohol,’’ Newberry said, explaining why he feels the laws must conform to reality.

House Speaker Nick Mattiello, a longtime critic of marijuana legalization, is becoming “more open-minded” on the topic, his spokesman Larry Berman said. Why? Economics.

Mattiello sees the opportunity for the state government to collect a meaningful chunk of tax revenue.

Vermont

The Green Mountain state is likely to be the next state to legalize the herb. Outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin supported marijuana legalization. Vermont, which create a medical marijuana program in 2011, is seen as a progressive state that is open to cannabis legalization. Earlier this year, Vermont’s medicinal law was expanded to include chronic pain. The registration of patients is expected to go from the current 2,700 to more than 6,000. For many experts, the step to full legalization will be an easy one.

This month, Shumlin invited residents convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana to apply for pardons. He declared that the hw will use the governor’s pardoning power “to expedite our move to a saner drug policy and criminal justice system.”

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