To do this, I want to quote at some length a new colleague of mine, Rep. John-Michael Parker, who represents Durham and Madison. John-Michael expressed perfectly my reasoning and my feelings about this vote. I reprint, with his permission, an edited version of what he wrote. Please know that although these are not my words, they capture exactly my sentiments.
“Over the past few months, I’ve done my best to learn about the many complex elements of this issue: public health, social justice, equity, public safety, taxes and revenue, criminal justice, youth mental health, and more. I’ve listened to mental health professionals and physicians, child psychiatrists and educators, social justice advocates, addiction specialists, and concerned constituents.
And as I’ve learned is the case with so much of the legislation, we have the privilege of debating and passing here in the General Assembly, this one was not cut and dry, and there was no easy answer. I have great respect for the folks who are opposed to this policy and to my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who voted the other way; and I have deep gratitude for the many individuals who took the time to help me understand this issue and figure out where we should go from here.
I voted “Yes” Wednesday night because, when it comes down to it, I believe that responsible regulation of adult-use cannabis is the best path forward. Cannabis is not only at our doorstep in New York and Massachusetts (and 16 other states and Washington DC have already legalized it), it is already present here in Connecticut. In our state today both the product and the marketplace are unregulated and therefore liable to being particularly dangerous—even deadly. And while a variety of criminal justice reforms have begun moving us through the devastating impacts of the war on drugs—a war that has claimed a disproportionate toll on people of color—this bill presents an opportunity to right some of those wrongs. A large majority of the public (including the people here in our towns) are in favor of legalizing cannabis and want to see our state enable responsible adult usage of a product that is already a factor in so many lives. While I’ve had my concerns with legalization and its potential negative impacts all along, I ultimately decided that to vote “No” would be to support the status quo—and I think we can do better.
Like many of my colleagues, I was not supportive of the first draft of this bill and the insufficient harm reduction measures it contained. Over the last few months, I learned that it would be critical to cap the potency of THC in any legalized cannabis product, to use a larger share of the revenue to invest in prevention and addiction support, and to ensure that proper steps were taken to keep a potentially dangerous industry from marketing to children and negatively affecting physical and mental health. (N.B. I am grateful to colleagues like John-Michael, who worked with our leadership to make the bill better.) The result isn’t perfect, of course—but bills rarely are.
Because of the issues raised…we were able to cap potency at 30% for dry flower and 60% for concentrates; we were able to get 25% of revenue committed to prevention and harm reduction (which will result in tens of millions of dollars of additional investment in these woefully underfunded initiatives of our state), with a specific earmark for Youth Service Bureaus; and we were able to include measures that restrict advertising to youth audiences…
Cannabis has been with us for a long time, and regardless of how this bill turned out, it’s here to stay. With legalization in or on the horizon in nearly every New England state, I believe open-eyed, responsible regulation was the right decision…and an opportunity to be a model for our neighboring states by ensuring sensible regulation and equity in Connecticut.”
Please feel free to contact me by email at Christine.Palm@cga.ct.gov with any questions or concerns.