Connecticut Misses Legalization Opportunity as Legislative Session Ends
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Connecticut Misses Legalization Opportunity as Legislative Session Ends

Voters and lawmakers now look to 2020—or even 2022—for reform.

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June 4, 2019

Connecticut’s legislative session ends June 5, and it will pass without the legalization of cannabis that many had anticipated.

It wasn’t simply a pie-in-the-sky attempt, either; Gov. Ned Lamont had urged a somewhat supportive General Assembly to get this done in time. On May 1, the GA’s Finance Committee approved the bill in what was seen as a huge win for cannabis reform proponents. Lawmakers had been whittling away at three separate pieces of legislation—and getting closer with each passing debate.

Now, the GA will end its session without taking the vote on the matter at all. As in other states that narrowly missed the mark—like New Mexico and New Jersey—Connecticut voters may take to the ballot to pass a constitutional amendment.

That’s a complicated gambit, however, as landing an amendment measure on the November 2020 ballot, for example, would require 75-percent approval from lawmakers. If lawmakers don’t approve that, then voters would need to turn to the 2022 election.

“The numbers just aren’t there for legalization,” State Rep. Josh Elliot told law.com. “If we try to take the constitutional amendment approach, we would need supermajorities in both chambers to get it on the ballot by 2020.” (Presently, the numbers are close: Democrats hold 92 of the state’s 151 GA seats and 23 of the state’s 36 Senate seats.)

As a backdrop, a new Hartford Courant/Sacred Heart University poll shows 59 percent of Connecticut residents support adult-use cannabis legalization.

“It’s obvious from this poll and previous polls we’ve conducted that taxes and the high cost of living in Connecticut continue to dominate poll results,” said Lesley DeNardis, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and director of Sacred Heart University’s master of public administration program. “Respondents are looking for tax relief and are open to new potential sources of revenue in an effort to avoid the loss of preferred services or valued programs, and to help mitigate the escalating cost of living in Connecticut.

“The legalization of recreational marijuana, already approved in nearby Massachusetts, is seen by respondents as a potential solution to help solve Connecticut’s budget crisis. And decriminalization, as well as directing funds to municipalities that have been disproportionally affected by the costs of drug-enforcement measures in the past are seen as viable options.”

Connecticut legalized medical cannabis in 2012, and sales began in 2014.