HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — With a stroke of the pen Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill that makes Connecticut the 19th state in the nation to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
“I think it is a model for the rest of the nation. We had a chance to learn from others and I think we’ve got it right here in the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said. “Maybe we weren’t the first, but we’re the first, I think, to show that we can get it right and what that means for people going forward.”
This comes after the bill was passed several times as it went back and forth between the State Senate and House. Lawmakers had to hold a special session to further address the bill. Some parts of SB-1201 are set to go into effect as soon as July 1, including the ability to possess and use one and a half ounces of marijuana if you are 21 years or older.
State Rep. Mike Dagostino (D-Hamden), chair of the Legislature’s General Law Committee, said, “Until this year, every other state that did this did it via referendum—they put it out to vote. I have no doubt if we did that in Connecticut, if we could’ve done that in Connecticut it would have passed two years ago.”
Instead, lawmakers ignited a debate. “It will be the most comprehensive cannabis legalization bill in the country,” said State Representative Jason Rojas, the Democratic majority leader in the House.
Equity in the law was paramount. Half of the licenses to sell go to equity applicants, the other half to the rest of the world. An equity commission will also be chosen in the next 45 days. There is no confirmation process.
The Department of Consumer Protection is charged with writing all of the rules and regulations surrounding the sale of cannabis and the licensing which will be approved through a state-run lottery system.
State Senator Gary Winfield (D-New Haven), the author of the law, says crafting the legislation was complex: ”Thinking about not only where we’re going but where we have been and making sure that we deal with things that impact communities because of where we’ve been.”
The law also allows changes to the Clean Air Act, which gives mayors and first selectman flexibility to regulated where pot is smoked or vaped.
If you are a municipality with under 50,000 residents, you can ban it outright. Towns that zone for the retail sale of cannabis can also receive 3% of the sales tax revenue. Cities with 50,000 residents or more are required to make a designated public marijuana smoking area even if the local government bans the sale.
“The idea is you didn’t want to turn the New Haven Green into just a smoking free-for-all, so you’ll have a dedicated area for public consumption,” explained Representative D’Amico. Towns also have to allow delivery if there is a licensed product going to a consumer.
It is expected retail sales will not begin until next year. Lamont says he asked the law be drafted in a way that it would be a model for the nation. “Make sure we can do this in a safely regulated way.”
But not everyone is celebrating. Opponents say the law hurts public safety and public health.
Talking to NEWS10’s local sister station, House Republican Leader Vin Candelora said, “I remain steadfast in my belief that this is a bad policy decision for the State of Connecticut and its residents, and young people particularly. And I’m disappointed, but not altogether surprised, that during the Democrats’ gleeful remarks about this ‘momentous’ decision to legalize and commercialize a drug, the governor offered the contradictory view that their legislation prioritizes public health and safety. For Democrats, public health was never a primary concern—it’s been about their bizarre view of economic development and creating a revenue source that, unfortunately, won’t even be used to balance our state budget. With the bill’s signing, they’ll now rush into a backroom somewhere to create an unelected Equity Council that will keep its thumb on licenses and the money.”
State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (R) said this is a sad day for Connecticut, adding: “It’s going to be yet one more thing they have to deal with to protect their kids.”
Maryann Pressamarita of West Hampton has been fighting against legalized cannabis for decades. Tuesday she ventured to the Capitol to tell the governor about her son. He recently died from drug addiction. She said it started with marijuana.
“He suffered a lot and I fought for many years because of that. I know it’s happening to a lot of other families,” remarked Pressamarita. “Very sad. We’re going to have a lot of tent cities in Connecticut.”