Set­ting frame­work for le­gal mar­i­juana

In­tro­duced bills in­clude move to ex­punge ar­rest records for those with mi­nor of­fenses

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Daniela Al­ti­mari

House Democrats on Thurs­day un­veiled a plan to le­gal­ize and tax recre­ational mar­i­juana while ad­dress­ing the pro­found toll crim­i­nal­iza­tion has taken on gen­er­a­tions of African-Amer­i­cans.

In ad­di­tion to le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, the pro­pos­als would ex­punge ar­rest records for peo­ple charged with mi­nor drug of­fenses and pro­hibit both cul­ti­va­tion at home and the sale of candy con­tain­ing the psy­choac­tive in­gre­di­ent in cannabis.

“Le­gal­iz­ing a sub­stance that has been il­le­gal for more than 80 years is a com­pli­cated process,” said Rep. Michael D’Agostino, a Ham- den Demo­crat and co-chair­man of the gen­eral law com­mit­tee. He called the pro­pos­als out­lined at a press con­fer­ence Thurs­day the “first draft in a com­plex process.”

In a se­ries of three bills that were qui­etly drafted be­hind the scenes over the course of the past few weeks, law­mak­ers laid out a frame­work for the le­gal cul­ti­va­tion and sale of cannabis to adults over 21. But they stressed that

their ef­fort rep­re­sents a start of a dis­cus­sion, not a fin­ished prod­uct.

If the bills clear the Gen­eral Assem­bly this ses­sion and are signed into law by Gov. Ned La­mont, a sup­porter of le­gal­iza­tion, a re­tail mar­i­juana pi­lot pro­gram could be­gin by the end of the year, D’Agostino said.

Be­fore craft­ing their pro­pos­als, Con­necti­cut law­mak­ers stud­ied statutes gov­ern­ing le­gal recre­ational mar­i­juana in sev­eral other states, in­clud­ing Mas­sachusetts and Colorado. D’Agostino said they sought to place cer­tain con­trols on Con­necti­cut’s pro­gram, such as not per­mit­ting the sale of cannabis­laced gummy can­dies, which could prove ap­peal­ing to chil­dren.

The leg­is­la­tion in­cludes pro­vi­sions de­signed to en- sure mi­nor­ity en­trepreneurs have an en­try point into the mul­ti­mil­lion mar­i­juana in­dus­try by grant­ing them first ac­cess to cul­ti­va­tion and other types of li­censes. It also in­cludes com­pan­ion leg­is­la­tion that would wipe clear the crim­i­nal records of peo­ple charged with low-level drug of­fenses.

Those two sec­tions of the bill had been sought by mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture’s Black and Puerto Ri­can Cau­cus, who said they would not sup­port any le­gal­iza­tion bill that did not seek to ad­dress the his­toric racial in­equities of the war on drugs.

“It’s im­por­tant that the eq­uity com­po­nent is at­tached to any bill that’s passed in Con­necti­cut,” said Sen. Dou­glas McCrory, a Hart­ford Demo­crat. “Some com­mu­ni­ties have been harmed more by the war on cannabis than oth­ers. Those com­mu­ni­ties have been de­stroyed and they need to be re­built.”

Sen. Gary Win­field, a Demo­crat from New Haven, said the bill rep­re­sents a chance to es­tab­lish a pol­icy that’s fair and just. “For us to pass a cannabis le­gal­iza­tion bill means some peo­ple will be mak­ing a lot of money … at the very least, we need to go back and fix those de­ci­sions we made in the past,” he said.

Ten other states have le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana but none have take for­mal steps to guar­an­tee that mi­nor­ity-owned busi­nesses have ac­cess to the pot in­dus­try.

The bill pro­posed by D’Agostino en­vi­sions a tightly reg­u­lated in­dus­try mod­eled on the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram, where ev­ery­thing from man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses to THC con­tent is sub­ject to state over­sight. It would es­tab­lish a panel to is­sue li­censes and over­see the pro­gram.

The draft bill does not al­low for home­grown mar­i­juana, although it di­rects the com­mit­tee to study the pos­si­bil­ity of al­low­ing it in the fu­ture. “That is prob- ably one of the main fault lines with re­spect to this law,” D’Agostino said. “There’s a very pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate com­mu­nity that thinks, ‘hey it’s just like toma­toes and you should be able to grow it like you grow any­thing else,’ ” he said. “Oth­ers want to see that very reg­u­lated.”

Law­mak­ers are propos­ing al­low­ing the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana providers to sell a higher po­tency prod­uct to pa­tients. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tors and man­u­fac­tur­ers would also be given early ac­cess to recre­ational cannabis li­censes.

The tax piece of pro­posal re­mains largely un­writ­ten. Rep. Ja­son Rojas, chair­man of the leg­is­la­ture’s fi­nance com­mit­tee, said that piece will come af­ter the le­gal­iza­tion mea­sure has been fi­nal­ized by the gen­eral law com­mit­tee. Rev­enue es­ti­mates for le­gal mar­i­juana sales have var­ied, with the state col­lect­ing any­where be­tween $30 mil­lion and $180 mil­lion a year, de­pend­ing on the source of the es­ti­mates.

Rojas said he ex­pects the tax scheme will mir­ror that of Mas­sachusetts, where le­gal mar­i­juana sales be­gan last fall. “We’re look­ing at a 20 per­cent com­bined rate so that were not com­pet­ing with Mas­sachusetts and not in­cen­tiviz­ing peo­ple to go there and pur­chase their cannabis,” he said.

The third com­po­nent of the le­gal­iza­tion ef­fort is un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee. That panel will re­view a bill that will set new penal­ties for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of cannabis. That bill would also pro­vide for the era­sure of crim­i­nal records for those pre­vi­ously con­victed of pos­ses­sion of less than 1.5 ounces of mar­i­juana, said ju­di­ciary panel cochair­man Steve Stafstrom.

The ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee and the gen­eral law com­mit­tee are sched­uled to hold sep­a­rate hear­ings on mar­i­juana bills on March 22.

“This is the start of the process,” D’Agostino said. “It is a long way to June … we ex­pect these bills to evolve and then to be put to­gether on a fi­nal com­pre­hen­sive bill on le­gal­iza­tion that the leg­is­la­ture can take up.”

Last year, ad­vo­cates pro­posed four com­pet­ing bills and held mul­ti­ple pub­lic hear­ings by this point. But only one of the bills sur­vived a com­mit­tee vote and the is­sue was not voted on in ei­ther the House or the Se­nate.

La­mont said dur­ing last year’s gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign he would make le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana a pri­or­ity, but he did not in­clude any rev­enue from mar­i­juana sales in his bud­get pro­posal l ast month.

He fa­vored the idea in his bud­get ad­dress to law­mak­ers, how­ever, and urged them to move for­ward with leg­is­la­tion.

“Some com­mu­ni­ties have been harmed more by the war on cannabis than oth­ers. Those com­mu­ni­ties have been de­stroyed and they need to be re­built.” State Sen. Dou­glas McCrory, a Hart­ford Demo­crat


Rep. Steve Stafstrom, ju­di­ciary chair, from left, Rep. Mike D’Agostino, gen­eral law chair, Rep. Josh El­liott, Rep. Ja­son Rojas, fi­nance chair, and Rep. Juan Can­de­laria, deputy speaker, speak Thurs­day at the Leg­isla­tive Of­fice Build­ing about new mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion.

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