New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Applauding decision to legalize cannabis
Connecticut is the latest state to pass legislation authorizing adult recreational use of marijuana (about time!) and this should be cause to celebrate for our fellow Nutmeggers. In fact, according to the latest surveys, nearly two-thirds of Connecticut residents agree with this sentiment.
The milestone vote by our lawmakers earlier this summer came amid a wave of recent Northeast state legalizations, including our neighbors in New Jersey and New York. Massachusetts has been ahead of the pack, legalizing cannabis in 2016 while Rhode Island, where pot is currently decriminalized, is expected to follow the path to legalization later this year. Legalization is a game of dominoes, where states cannot fall behind their neighbors or suffer the consequences.
Many people, myself included, think it is high time (pun very much intended) we recognize the wisdom of legalizing the adult use of cannabis, not only from an economic standpoint but a social justice perspective. Following the bill’s passage, Gov. Ned Lamont directly addressed the inequities faced by minority communities, while also pointing out that criminalization did little to protect public health and safety.
In terms of the economy, almost every expert believes that legal marijuana will provide a much-needed business boost. In February, Lamont published revenue projections estimating that sales from an adult-use cannabis program starting in May 2022 would generate tax revenues of approximately $33.6 million by fiscal year 2023. The number would jump to $97 million by 2026. This doesn’t even include the jump in employment and investment in new retail facilities. If the program is implemented correctly, alongside a crackdown of illegal cannabis sales, I think these numbers could be larger still.
No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, I think we would find consensus around the view that Connecticut taxpayers are overburdened and property taxes too high. The COVID pandemic has only made the situation worse. With that as a backdrop, what better time for new revenue streams?
The best part of these economic benefits is that they will be shared with those who need it most. Connecticut’s bill provides for a Social Equity Council and Social Equity and Innovation Fund to appropriate marijuana sales tax revenues and award marijuana business licenses to lower-income applicants who have lived in geographic areas disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Our cities win as a significant portion of revenue generated should be dedicated towards community reinvestment. They will win further if the programs put in place avoid some of the pitfalls seen in other social equity programs, and not only help with licensing, but also help with business operations — something that has been missed in many cases.
Possession of certain amounts for personal usage is now legal — if you’re 21, of course — but recreational retail sales will have to wait until next May at the earliest. People looking to grow marijuana plants for their own recreational use will have to wait to do so until 2023, but home cultivation for authorized medical patients can begin as soon as October this year — and getting a medical card is not difficult.
Connecticut now becomes the 19th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, but it remains an illegal drug under federal law (and under those federal laws is somehow classified as more dangerous than heroin, cocaine or any opioid). And while legalization makes good economic sense all around, we can’t forget the impact on the criminal justice system, both here in our own state and on the national level, where in parts of the country simply possessing weed can still land you in prison.
It may surprise you to know that if you ask most people in law enforcement, they also agree that recreational cannabis should be legal. So, in the words of legendary reggae artist Peter Tosh, “you’ve got to legalize it.” I believe this holds true not only in Connecticut, but hopefully everywhere in the not-so-distant future. I commend our state lawmakers for helping to lead the way.
The best part of these economic benefits is that they will be shared with those who need it most.
Harry DeMott, of New Canaan, is the founder and CEO of A Proper High, an e-commerce website.