Leg­is­la­ture lacks will to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana

The News-Times - - BUSINESS - By Ken Dixon [email protected]­post.com Twit­ter: @KenDixonCT

HART­FORD — Demo­cratic lead­ers on Wed­nes­day ac­knowl­edged that law­mak­ers don’t have the will to be­come the first state leg­is­la­ture in the na­tion to ap­prove the full le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana for adult recre­ational use and re­tail sales.

The is­sue, they said, is best-suited for a statewide amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion, which Speaker of the House Joe Ares­i­mow­icz and House Ma­jor­ity Leader Matt Rit­ter en­vi­sion as a pro­posal for next year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion.

“I wouldn’t put the odds very high on us act­ing on it this year,” Ares­i­mow­icz said of the bill’s status with a week left in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion. “We are throw­ing around the idea of putting it up next year for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. Let the vot­ers vote on that and then we’ll come back and do the reg­u­la­tions after­wards.”

If ap­proved by a simple ma­jor­ity in the 2020 leg­is­la­ture, then voted again by the sub­se­quent Gen­eral Assem­bly af­ter that year’s elec­tion, it could get on the 2022 statewide bal­lot. To get on the 2020 bal­lot, 75 per­cent of the House and Se­nate would have to ap­prove the mea­sure next year.

If ap­proved by statewide vot­ers, it would likely take a year just to en­act spe­cific reg­u­la­tions, then pos­si­bly an­other year to create a re­tail cannabis mar­ket.

Lack­ing a 75 per­cent vote next year, and a de­lay of five years, with a po­ten­tial an­nual tax-rev­enue stream of $180 mil­lion at stake, Connecticu­t might miss out on $900 mil­lion in rev­enue to le­gal sales in Mas­sachusetts and the tax-free mar­i­juana un­der­ground.

While Alaska, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Maine, Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, Nevada, Ore­gon, Ver­mont, Washington and Washington D.C. have ap­proved adult use of cannabis, only Ver­mont law­mak­ers vot­ing on the en­act­ing leg­is­la­tion, which fo­cused solely on al­low­ing res­i­dents to grow sev­eral plants for per­sonal use. In other states, voter propo­si­tions led to the le­gal­iza­tion.

“I think if we did an up or down vote in the House cham­ber on the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, I think it would pass over­whelm­ingly,” Ares­i­mow­icz said Wed­nes­day morn­ing. “It’s not the con­cept of the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, it’s how we get the sys­tem up and run­ning; what pref­er­ences are put into place; should there be the ex­punge­ments. All those de­tails are what’s bog­ging us down right now.”

Ares­i­mow­icz ad­mit­ted that the pro­jected rev­enue stream will be­come a side ef­fect of the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s ret­i­cence.

“I thought that this was go­ing to be a pretty simple bill that if we got up and run­ning with a fair struc­ture would al­low us to en­sure that we are pro­vid­ing a safe prod­uct for those that wish to par­take and in a way that the state of Connecticu­t would make some money on it,” Ares­i­mow­icz said.

He de­scribed some leg­isla­tive op­po­nents as law­mak­ers who, although they only ques­tion part of the bill, tell him they do not sup­port it at all.

Rit­ter, who like Ares­i­mow­icz spoke to re­porters prior to the House ses­sion, un­der­scored the vast ma­jor­ity of the states that ap­proved full le­gal­iza­tion af­ter statewide propo­si­tions or ref­er­en­dums forced the is­sue onto the bal­lot for rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

Rit­ter, hy­poth­e­siz­ing on a 2020 bill, said it would likely pass. “Why would any­one vote against putting it to the vot­ers?” he said.

“It’s al­ways been bold,” Ares­i­mow­icz said. “It’s an eco­nomic is­sue but also a so­cial is­sue. We strug­gled with it early. I think we got to the point where I thought we got to the votes on the gen­eral con­sen­sus of the le­gal­iza­tion, and now we’re strug­gling with the de­tails. It’s a de­lib­er­a­tive, slow, body by design. Some of these big­ger is­sues take some time.”

Peter Hviz­dak / Hearst Connecticu­t Me­dia

Ad­vanced Grow Labs in West Haven is the lo­ca­tion of one of the state’s four pro­duc­ers of med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

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