Tuesday saw backers of all four legalization bills in the Connecticut legislature come together to push their common cause, a properly regulated cannabis market for adults of the age of 21.
The morning press conference in Hartford saw the sponsors of four separate bills to regulate and tax marijuana join the newly formed Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana.
CCRM Director, Sam Tracy, said the coalition has four main goals going forward; remove penalties for adults over the age of 21 who use cannabis responsibly in the privacy of their own home; establish protections for consumers; create a new industry that provides job opportunities for all — especially those most disproportionately affected and targeted by marijuana prohibition — and establish sensible policies to protect public safety and the environment.
The lawmakers expressed their support for ending marijuana prohibition prior to a hearing by the Public Health Committee where public comments on one of the bills (HB 5314) were heard.
HB 5314, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Ziobron, would directs state’s Department of Consumer Protection to establish a regulated system of marijuana cultivation and sales for adults 21 years of age and older. From there, The Department of Revenue Services would create a tax structure that would generate revenue for the state and certain municipalities.
“One of my goals in proposing legislation to legalize marijuana is to promote a healthy and substantive discussion on the issue,” Ziobron said. “I feel that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable and, as such, Connecticut should be at the forefront of the movement in order to set the standard for effective policy.”
The cards are more in her favor than ever before: nearly two-thirds of Connecticut voters (63 percent) support making possession of small amounts of marijuana legal for adults, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in March 2015.
“The vast majority of voters in Connecticut think it is time to end marijuana prohibition and start regulating it similarly to alcohol,” Tracy said. “Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society. It should be produced and sold by tightly regulated, taxpaying businesses, not by criminals in the underground market.”
Ziobron and the sponsors of the three similar proposals (Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, Rep. Juan Candelaria and Rep. Toni Walker respectively) have agreed to work together to end marijuana prohibition in Connecticut and ensure that whichever bill moves forward creates the best system possible for regulating and taxing marijuana.
While elected officials were able to get their thoughts on HB 1513 out early in the day, civilian backers weren’t so lucky: the public comment period on the bill was scheduled last — after 30 other bills had been discussed — on what was supposed to be Tuesday.
“I didn’t end up testifying until about 12:10am, on Wednesday morning,” Tracy said. “It was a very long day, since our press conference Tuesday morning was at 9:30 a.m.”
Law enforcement’s approach to cannabis laws has changed a lot in Connecticut over the last decade. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data, 2010 saw 8,399 arrests for marijuana possession. That same year the state enacted laws removing criminal penalties for possessing less than a half ounce of cannabis — just two years later that number dropped 55 percent to 3,057 total arrests for possession.
According to a report from TrendCT, from 2011 to 2014, the vast majority of citations issued were from the State Police at a whopping 1,480. In second was the UConn police at 125. 86 percent of the citations issued were to men — 19 year olds were ticketed the most.
Sadly, much of the time these citation numbers saw alarming racial disparities. As an example, the community of East Hampton: African Americans make up only 0.64 percent of its population, but account for nearly half of all citations issued for cannabis there.
TELL US, do you feel optimistic about legalization in CT? What about your state?