In March and April 2019, lawmakers in Connecticut unveiled a plan to legalize marijuana for recreational use and retail sales to adults over the age of 21 years. The General Law and Judiciary Committees approved versions of the legalization of recreational marijuana and approved bills concerning cannabis in the workplace and driving while under the influence of the drug. On May 1, a piece of the legalization legislation passed a key committee, leading to final negotiations between the Legislature and Governor Ned Lamont.

The Legislation

The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved a bill that sets a $35 per ounce levy on cannabis flower and a $13.50 per ounce levy on cannabis trim, the excess leaves from buds of marijuana plants. It also will establish a new special sales tax rate, including the standard 6.35 percent state sales tax on marijuana transactions and an additional 3 percent local sales tax that will be used to support cities and towns that host dispensaries.

Proponents of the bill argue that it will have an overall positive impact on the state. Kebra Smith-Bolden, co-director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, says this legislation “thoughtfully proposes the state direct the revenue from legal cannabis sales to the communities that have long borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition.” Supporters claim that the bills passed to date propose a comprehensive and well-planned strategy resulting in a regulated, properly taxed cannabis market. Further, Representative Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford) offered an amendment that would set aside money from taxes on marijuana to support mental health and substance abuse programs.

Opponents argue that it is hypocritical to legalize marijuana and then use tax funds from the resulting business to address problems created by the drug. Senator Rob Sampson (R-Southington) called Scanlon’s amendment “absurd on its face.” Representative Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) expressed his concern that recreational retail sales could hinder the state’s successful medical marijuana program. Opponents continue to criticize the taxation levels, arguing that they could encourage the black market as the prices might go higher than prices charged by drug dealers.

To Be Continued…

This is the third key vote by a Connecticut legislative committee this year in favor of the legalization of recreational marijuana. However, the tight vote and certain related issues could result in the legislation being pushed into a special session if legislators cannot reach a compromise before the General Assembly session ends on June 5. Now, legislators must attempt to work together to create a final bill to be debated on the floor of the state House of Representatives and Senate.

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