Two Connecticut General Assembly committees held hearings March 22, 2019, on bills to legalize marijuana and expand the state's medical cannabis program.
The proposed legislation would permit adults 21 and older to possess, purchase, and consume certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. The House bill also includes a number of social equity provisions that are meant to encourage people from communities that were disproportionately impacted by prohibition to participate in the legal industry.
While reform advocates generally support the bills, they've also made a series of recommendations to increase the focus on restorative justice and to include policies such as allowing home cultivation.
In the General Assembly's General Law Committee, witnesses including a commissioner for the state's medical cannabis program and social equity advocates testified about HB 7371. That bill would establish a governor-appointed commission to regulate the industry, give licensing priority to individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war and require the commission to conduct a study on permitting a home-grow option and microbusinesses.
“The time has come to move this forward. We think this is a fantastic start [and] there is definitely some amazing language in here,” Jason Ortiz, president of Connecticut United for Reform and Equity (CURE), said at the hearing. “There's just some other pieces that we think undermine the really good parts that we can strike out and maybe amend and move the basic ideas forward.”
“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” testified Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
Over in the Judiciary Committee, experts dedicated significant time to testimony about the public health and safety impacts of cannabis legalization. Lawmakers pressed the witnesses on issues such as labeling requirements, what kinds of edibles should be allowed, impaired driving, and the mental health effects of consuming high-THC marijuana varieties.
The bill before that panel, SB 1085, would also legalize cannabis for adult use. But the legislation has a focus on expungements for individuals with prior marijuana convictions for possession of up to 1 1/2 ounces, or 42 1/2 grams.
As with the House bill, advocates are supportive of the spirit of the legislation but feel certain provisions fall short. For example, MPP said that expungements should apply to convictions for any kind of cannabis conviction. The organization also called for a home-grow option, which is not included in either legalization bill under consideration.
Two other pieces of cannabis legislation were discussed at the Judiciary committee hearing. One would create a misdemeanor penalty for driving while consuming marijuana and provide $500,000 in funding for law enforcement to train officers as drug recognition experts. The other bill specifies that employers don't have to provide special accommodations for employees who use cannabis while working.
As one of the states considered most likely to legalize cannabis in 2019, Connecticut offers another example of how the conversation around reform has shifted from “Should it be legal?” to “How should it be legal?” with the hearings largely concentrated on defining and promoting social equity provisions.
If either bill makes it through the General Assembly, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign. He's called the issue one of his “priorities” for the current legislative session and spoke about the issue during a budget speech in February 2019.
This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here.