At the start of 2020, cannabis legalization bills in a handful of northeast states had a relatively clear path to passage. That was before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The latest place where a cannabis bill is delayed? Connecticut.
Democrat and Republican leaders announced Tuesday that the regular 2020 session is now over, ahead of the May 6 deadline. In other words, with Connecticut’s legislative session cut short, legalization is, for now, off the table.
In a joint statement, Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, Senate President Martin Looney, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said that their efforts are focused on curbing the spread of coronavirus, and protecting the state’s residents. While a special session is planned, it will be for “necessary” items.
“The 2020 regular legislative session will adjourn without any further action, and we are already working on a plan to convene a special session in the coming months to ensure the continuity of government functions and that any necessary legislative action can be taken,” the leaders said in their joint statement. “Our top priority is the health and safety of the public, and we are committed to continue working in unison to stem this health crisis and do everything possible to protect the Connecticut residents we all represent.”
DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project and co-chair of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, told Cannabis Wire that this news is unsurprising.
“We had anticipated for some time that Connecticut, like many legislatures, would end its legislative session without completing its work on many important bills due to the novel coronavirus,” Ward said. “However, we are very encouraged by the broad support that Gov. Lamont’s legalization bill gained this year from policy makers and residents throughout the state. We remain optimistic that legalization and ending prohibition will be taken up in either special session sometime in 2020 or at the beginning of a long legislative session in 2021.”
Last October, Gov. Andrew Cuomo hosted a cannabis summit in Manhattan that brought together lawmakers and governors from northeast states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. It was at that summit that Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont emphasized the importance of an arms-linked approach to legalization for smaller states in the northeast. Lamont said he took a fishing trip with Cuomo last year to discuss policies that could be better implemented in concert, from cyber security to cannabis.
“This patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all,” Lamont said at the summit. “My state of Connecticut, people cross the border. They drive up to Massachusetts where they buy some cannabis and bring it back, and that makes a real problem for our state police.”
Lamont recommitted his pledge to the northeast approach to legalization in his State of the State address.
“Like it or not, legalized marijuana is just a short drive away in Massachusetts. And New York is soon to follow,” Lamont said during his budget address. “And 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. And it’s an opportunity to right the wrongs of a war on drugs that disproportionately impacted our minority communities.”
Legalization has been upended in New York, too, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for legalization by budget. By the time the budget deadline approached on April 1, COVID-19 had already triggered a “pause” on all non-essential business. While lawmakers could take it up before the session ends in June, it doesn’t look likely.
Anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana told Cannabis Wire that they hope this is the end of the road for cannabis legalization efforts in Connecticut.
“Moving forward this year, it is our hope that when the legislature should choose to reconvene, the top priority of lawmakers will be focused on mitigating the impact from this pandemic,” said Kevin Sabet, founder and president of SAM. “Connecticut lawmakers would be wise to put legalization efforts on the back burner.”