CT: Legislative Committee Will Consider Bill Legalizing Marijuana Thursday

Photo Credit: Mark Mirko

The idea’s been floated before, but recreational marijuana’s backers have so far been unable to convince the Land of Steady Habits to legalize a new one.

The legislature’s General Law Committee will weigh a new bill legalizing the retail sale of marijuana at a public hearing. The hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed until Thursday because of the snowstorm.

The bill, No. 5458, would allow people 21 or older to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana from a retailer or “marijuana lounge,” where customers would smoke or consume their purchase on-site. Anyone 21 or older would also be allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use.

In the past, legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have opposed proposals to legalize marijuana in Connecticut, despite other New England states that have legalized pot. When he presented his budget this year, Gov. Malloy listed legalizing and taxing the sale of marijuana as an “option” if legislators opposed his proposals for raising new revenue.

In submitted testimony, West Haven resident Christopher Brown asked lawmakers to “please be on the right side of history and do what’s right for our state.”

“No one should lose their job, their family or their life over cannabis,” Brown wrote to the committee. “It’s wrong that we continue to lock away good people over a harmless plant.”

The bill calls for lawmakers to create a Marijuana Control Commission that licenses and oversees a new range of marijuana facilities, including retail stores, marijuana lounges and cultivation centers. All facilities would be subject to Department of Consumer Protection oversight, including regular inspections and spot checks. Any facility that grows, handles or sells marijuana would have to install alarms and video systems and maintain a physical security presence.

Kebra Smith-Bolden, a registered nurse who founded CannaHealth, a New Haven center that conducts medical marijuana evaluations, called the proposed lounges “a beautiful thing.”

“When you legalize and you don’t offer options for people to consume, it’s not responsible,” she said. “We want people to be responsible, and not smoke in the street or around children.”

The bill would allow towns and municipalities to bar any marijuana establishment from their limits, either through an ordinance or a simple town meeting. Marijuana transactions carried out by anyone not employed by a marijuana retailer or lounge would be illegal.

Ronnie Kronen, who described himself in submitted testimony as a cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, criticized the riches he said dealers and medical dispensaries are reaping from the state’s prohibition on pot.

“This weed costs pennies to grow and we should be allowed to grow it,” he wrote.

Critics of recreational marijuana have said legalizing cannabis for people 21 and older has increased its consumption among those too young to legally smoke it. The bill contains provisions to use some of the facilities’ licensing and regulatory fees to fund educational programs in schools, and prohibits mass-market advertising campaigns “that have a high likelihood of reaching children.”

Recreational marijuana’s opponents were unconvinced.

“I just don’t see how making drugs more available to people is going to help our country’s addiction problem,” said Bo Huhn, a Guilford resident and member of two groups opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana. “It’s clear from other states that legalizing marijuana leads to more drug use, and more drug use among kids.”

Huhn said his own family was devastated when his daughter developed a crack addiction in 10th grade. “Look — people who say marijuana has nothing to do with moving on to heroin or hard drugs are wrong,” he said. “They’re always going to start with alcohol in the basement, or marijuana in the woods. I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this if it wasn’t for the kids, and the legislature needs to ask: Is more kids heading down that path something they want?”