Connecticut unveils proposal for marijuana legalization
Marijuana could soon be legal in Connecticut under a legislative proposal unveiled on Saturday.
The bill has been in the works for months with closed-door negotiations between Gov. Ned Lamont, state legislators and social justice advocates.
Under the proposed law, recreational cannabis would become legal for anyone 21 and over in July of this year.
Retail sales could begin in 2022.
An initial vote on the mammoth, nearly 300-page bill could happen Monday in the state Senate. Connecticut lawmakers must pass the bill by Wednesday. If they run out of time, the vote will get pushed back to a special session this summer.
Residents could possess 1.5 ounces or store up to five ounces in their home or car trunk.
Anyone caught with more than that amount could face an initial $500 fine and a Class C misdemeanor if they violate the rules again.
Underage users face penalties ranging from a written warning to a Class D misdemeanor under the proposed law, depending on how old they are and how much marijuana they are caught with.
To prevent underage use, businesses cannot advertise anywhere with more than 10% of an underage audience.
Cannabis could also be banned in state beaches and parks, and would be subject to a $250 fine.
Further information regarding the bill:
Further information regarding the bill:
Retail sales would begin in May 2022, according to House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Rojas. Licenses would be granted in a lottery system, with “social equity applicants” from neighborhoods with high rates of unemployment or drug arrests getting preference. Under the bill, equity applicants could claim half of all initial licenses.
A new 15-member Social Equity Council will screen the applicants.
There would be two types of sellers: retail (recreational sales only) and hybrid-retail (recreational and medical sales). Start-up costs would be:
- $500 to enter the lottery
- $5,000 for a provisional license
- $25,000 for a full license
Existing medical dispensaries could apply to convert to a hybrid-retailer license starting on Sept 1, 2021. The cost is steep: $1 million. Dispensaries do not have to enter a lottery to get a retail license.
To prevent corporate chains from taking over the industry, applicants will be limited to two licenses until June 2025.
Until June 2024, each city or town is limited to one retailer per 25,000 residents. After that, state consumer regulators will determine the cap.
Municipalities could ban retail sales through zoning, or 10 percent of voters could ask for a referendum on the issue. Towns that do allow sales would get a three percent tax, which must be used for social equity programs.
The governor could also enter in new compacts with Connecticut’s two tribes to allow pot sales on their land.
Connecticut is one of the only states left in the Northeast without retail pot sales.
PROTECTIONS FOR “SOCIAL EQUITY APPLICANTS”:
For months, negotiations stalled over making sure a new marijuana industry would help distressed neighborhoods that have suffered under the War on Drugs. To address that, the proposal creates a “mentorship” program to help residents get into the industry. Large-scale marijuana growers and dispensaries would receive major incentives to bring on “equity joint venture” partners.
The plan also creates a Business Accelerator Program, where applicants can receive technical assistance, training in accessing financing, and even be partnered with investors. There’s also a workforce development program that will partner with colleges to train cannabis workers and create possible apprenticeship programs.
Another major sticking point involves “home growing.” Under the plan, you could grow up to six pot plants per person, and up to 12 per household. Medical marijuana patients could begin home growing in January 2022; everyone else could start in July 2023.
Edibles would also be allowed under a “food and beverage manufacturer” license, but they must be sold at a licensed retailer – not directly to customers.
POT AND EMPLOYMENT
As of July 1, employers could not penalize workers for using pot outside the workplace, with the exceptions of exempted positions like cops and firefighters. Employers also could not deny you a job because you test positive for marijuana. Certain federal contractors, including military suppliers Sikorsky and Electric Boat, are exempt because they fall under federal rules.
PRIOR RECORDS ERASED, WITH CAVEATS
The bill also lets people erase past minor marijuana convictions, although those convicted after October 2015 will have to petition a judge to expunge their record. Beginning in 2023, most people convicted between 2000 and 2015 will automatically get their record wiped clean.
PREVENTING “DRUGGED DRIVERS”
The proposal also addresses concerns about “drugged drivers.” By July 2022, the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council would set a minimum number of specially-trained Drug Enforcement Officers for each police department. On this week’s “Connecticut Power & Politics,” we took a close look at how DREs work: https://connecticut.news12.com/power-and-politics-full-show-for-june-5-2021
New officers would also have to be trained in “advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement.”
Consuming cannabis and driving would be a Class C misdemeanor, but police would not be allowed to stop you solely for that. Officers also would not be allowed to search a car just because they smell marijuana, but they could make you take a field sobriety test.
The bill also forms a new task force to study updating the state’s impaired driving laws. They would make recommendations by July 2022.
PROTECTION FOR “SOCIAL EQUITY APPLICANTS”
To protect workers, cannabis applicants must also have a “labor peace agreement” with a “bona fide labor organization,” or show a “good faith effort” to form one. Workers are not required to unionize, and strikes would be banned.