CT Senate passes legal pot bill, House GOP says to wait

Hours after Connecticut Senate narrowly approved a long-awaited bill early Tuesday that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the state, Republican lawmakers said the House of Representatives should hold off from considering the bill as the legislative adjournment deadline looms.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the closed-door process which led to the massive, nearly 300-page bill is "tainted," noting how there was a provision that was stripped in the Senate which could have intentionally benefitted at least one individual financially.

"I’ve already spoken to the Speaker (of the House) about the cannabis bill and shared our concerns about taking up a bill that, in my opinion, is so tainted in the process - especially that Republicans were never invited into the room - to understand the policy decisions of why we are allowing certain individuals to profit," he said.

Candelora questioned whether there's enough time to debate and pass the marijuana bill considering the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn its regular session at midnight Wednesday night and the House was expected to spend much of Tuesday debating the new two-year budget proposal and related bills. Candelora predicted that debate on the marijuana bill could last 12 hours.

The 19-17 vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate came just before 2 a.m. and hours after Democratic lawmakers announced they had reached a final compromise on how to legalize cannabis in Connecticut and ensure the new industry will benefit those residents adversely affected by the nation's war on drugs. Six Democrats voted against the proposal, while one Republican voted in favor.

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"We've seen what's been wrought by having a war on drugs. Whole communities have been decimated," said state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Democratic majority leaders in the House of Representatives said Tuesday they hope to see the bill pass before Wednesday’s midnight adjournment. However, they did not rule out going into a special legislative session if time runs out, given the budget debate.

"I think it will get done. I think the marijuana vote will happen, I do," Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Tuesday morning.

Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said he would sign the legislation.

If the proposal is approved, Connecticut will join 18 other states that already allow recreational marijuana possession and use, which federal law continues to ban.

Critics of the bill included Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the top Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee who supported Connecticut's existing medical marijuana program.

"I think it's a big mistake," he said, arguing it sends a "horrible message" to young people. "How many had parents who said, ‘If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that?’ No. All of a handful of other states are doing this. Why should we?"

Under the bill, it would be legal for people 21 years 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 five ounces secured in their home or vehicle. Homegrown cannabis, however, will not counted toward that allowed amount.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2022, the legislation makes it legal for medical marijuana patients in the state to have three mature and three immature plants, with a limit of 12 plants per household. By July 1, 2023, any adult in Connecticut will be allowed to have the same amount of plants.

Meanwhile, the retail sale of cannabis would begin in May 2022. Under the program, municipalities would receive new revenue generated by a 3% local sales tax on gross receipts based on retail cannabis sales within their borders. It would also be subject to the state's 6.35% sales tax.

A provision included near the end of the bill specified that an unnamed "former backer of a (marijuana) producer may apply" to the Department of Consumer Protection for a "provisional cultivator license and subsequently a final cultivator license without being subject to a lottery." That section was stripped Monday night.

The bill also would automatically erase certain drug possession convictions that occurred between Jan. 1, 2000, and Oct. 1, 2015. If someone's conviction falls outside that time period, they could petition to have it erased.