HARTFORD, Conn. — The Connecticut Senate voted Thursday to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults, the final legislative action for a bill that lays the groundwork for the new industry in Connecticut and attempts to address racial inequities stemming from the nation’s war on drugs.
Shortly after vote, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said he’d sign the long-debated legislation into law. When that happens, Connecticut will become the 19th state to end the prohibition on marijuana, which remains an illegal drug under federal law, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
“This measure is comprehensive, protects our children and the most vulnerable in our communities, and will be viewed as a national model for regulating the adult-use cannabis marketplace,” Lamont said in a statement, explaining it was “fitting” that the bill was finally passed on the 50th anniversary of a speech made by the late President Richard Nixon declaring a war on drugs.
“I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice,” Lamont said.
The Senate approved the legislation on a 16 to 11 vote. Four Democrats joined all the Republicans in attendance in opposition. Nine senators were absent for the vote.
Under the bill, it will be legal for individuals 21 and older to possess and use cannabis beginning July 1. A person would be allowed to have up to 1.5 ounces, with an additional 5 ounces secured in their home or vehicle. Retail sales of recreational cannabis in Connecticut are not expected to begin until the summer of 2022, at the earliest.
“We will have a regulated product, a taxed product and a system for use by adults, as we have for tobacco, as we have for alcohol,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, noting that marijuana is already prevalent in society.
But critics of the bill continued their warnings on Thursday about the ramifications of Connecticut becoming the latest state to legalize a drug that remains illegal under federal law.
“I would like Connecticut to be the shining city on the hill. I don’t think that because surrounding states are going down this path that we should,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the top Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “It’s some respects, it’s the Wild Wild West.”
Senators on Thursday also gave final legislative approval of a massive bill that spells out details of the new two-year $46.3 billion state budget, among other issues. For example, the bill includes numerous voting-related provisions, including a new requirement that employers give their workers two hours of unpaid time off to vote in elections if they request it and the ability for people on parole to vote. The bill also allows voters to apply online to the Secretary of the State’s Office for absentee ballots and the drop boxes installed during the pandemic for absentee ballots will remain permanent.
“Secure absentee ballot drop boxes were an incredible success in 2020, allowing voters to deliver their absentee ballots themselves without having to rely on the US Postal Service,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said in a statement. “Now every Connecticut voter will be able to use these secure absentee ballot drop boxes in every election.
Thursday marked the second time the Senate had voted on both bills in special session. Each was amended by the House of Representatives, requiring another Senate vote. The Senate previously passed the marijuana bill during the regular legislative session, but the House did not vote on it in time for the General Assembly’s June 9 adjournment deadline.
House members on Wednesday stripped an amendment the Senate previously added to the cannabis legalization bill that ensured that an “equity applicant” for marijuana industry licenses, who would receive preferential status, could include people living in certain geographic areas who were previously arrested or convicted for the sale, use, manufacture or cultivation of cannabis. The provision also applied to individuals whose parent, spouse or child was arrested or convicted of the same charges.
Lamont had threatened to veto the legislation if that provision were included, arguing it would open up the industry and give preference to tens of thousands of people with a history of cannabis crimes, or members of their families, regardless of their financial means.