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MARIJUANA MOMENT

Connecticut governor renews marijuana legalization pledge in budget proposal and speech

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont delivers the State of the State during opening session at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont delivers the State of the State during opening session at the State Capitol on Wednesday.Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont renewed his call for marijuana legalization in his State of the State address Wednesday, and he included funding to help establish a regulatory framework for cannabis in a budget proposal submitted to lawmakers.

While the budget itself doesn’t include language that would actually establish legalization — as those of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo do — it sets aside about $275,000 to hire new state employees to take steps to prepare for the policy change. It also projects revenue that would ultimately result from legal marijuana sales.

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In the speech, Lamont discussed the importance of regional coordination of legal cannabis regulations. He and several governors from the Northeast met last year and agreed to basic principles of a marijuana market that the states should share.

“I believe that a coordinated regional regulation is our best chance to protect public health by displacing illicit sellers and replacing them with trusted providers,” he said. “And it’s an opportunity to right the wrongs of a war on drugs that disproportionately impacted our minority communities.”

“The patchwork of cannabis and vaping laws are impossible to enforce,” he said. “We will work with our neighboring states to make our laws safe, uniform, and enforceable.”

“Like it or not, legalized marijuana is a short drive away in Massachusetts and New York is soon to follow,” he added. “Right now do you realize that what you can buy legally in Massachusetts right across the border can land you in prison here in Connecticut for up to a year?”

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“Look, we just marked the 100th anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out?”

The legalization legislation that Lamont is pushing would provide “a comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, and use of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice,” according to a summary of the proposal. His office said it was “developed in careful partnership” with states in the region.

The budget states that “prohibition simply has not worked and, with legal cannabis available or soon to be available in our neighboring states, Governor Lamont has made the responsible decision to introduce legislation that would create a legal market for cannabis in Connecticut that is well-regulated, will protect consumers and the public at large, will reduce the size and influence of the black market, and will reduce the economic loss from our residents simply crossing the border.”

Beyond providing for automatic expungements for prior marijuana convictions, the bill will also strive for restorative justice through the establishment of an equity commission, which will “advise and oversee the implementation of the legal cannabis market.”

The panel will “develop proposals for how the individuals and communities that have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs can benefit from the creation of the legal cannabis market.”

Sales would start no earlier than July 1, 2022 under the proposal, and the budget notes that the market won’t go online until after the equity commission is established.

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According to a fiscal analysis, the state stands to generate $15.7 million in tax revenue from legal sales by 2023 and about $60 million in revenue the following year.

The governor laid out several other regulatory proposals in the budget pitch. Tax revenue will be shared with individual municipalities which will have “latitude as to how recreational cannabis can be used and sold within their borders.” There will be advertising and marketing restrictions to prevent appealing to youth, retail marijuana shops won’t be allowed to be near schools or parks, and the state’s clear air laws will be amended to incorporate “both cannabis smoking and vaping.” Additionally, revenue will be used for police training and updating the state’s process for handling impaired driving

This latest announcement comes two weeks after leading lawmakers in the state said they’re prioritizing legalization as part of the Legislature’s 2020 agenda.

Three pieces of marijuana reform legislation advanced in several committees last year, dealing with finance, restorative justice, and regulations, but they did not receive floor votes.

Read the story on Marijuana Moment.