For the past couple of years, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers have discussed and debated cannabis legalization. Last year, for the first time, Lamont put forth his own bill, but it was derailed by COVID-19. This year, Lamont is doubling down.
On Wednesday, Lamont released a list of legislative proposals for 2021, along with his FY 2022-2023 budget proposal. As part of this push, titled “Connecticut’s Comeback,” Lamont released another adult use legalization bill, and, for the first time, included cannabis revenue in his budget.
“Now, our neighboring states are offering recreational marijuana on a legal and regulated basis,” Lamont said during a budget address Wednesday. “Massachusetts dispensaries are advertising extensively here in Connecticut. And, rather than surrender this market to out-of-staters, or worse, to the unregulated underground market, our budget provides for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
The emphasis on neighboring states is in line with the “coordinated regional regulation” that Lamont has long urged, alongside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Adult use legalization is included in Cuomo’s budget this year, for the third time in as many years, though key lawmakers are pushing their own adult use legislation due to disagreements over equity.
Lamont has also emphasized equity, and during his Wednesday address said, “These additional revenues will go to distressed communities, which have been hardest hit by the war on drugs.” Though, as deliberations in states like New York and New Jersey have made clear, the devil is in the details.
Lamont’s proposed budget legislation, titled “An Act Responsibly And Equitably Regulating Adult-Use Cannabis,” was also published Wednesday, along with a summary of its key points. Broadly, Lamont’s proposal allows for adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, but it does not allow for home cultivation. Sales are set to begin in May 2022, and are expected to generate $97 million in tax revenue by FY 2026. There will be three tax types: excise tax on cultivated cannabis, both for medical and adult use (“$1.25 per dry gram of flower, $0.50 per dry gram of trim, and $0.28 per gram for wet cannabis”); state sales tax; 3% municipal retail tax.
Starting in FY 2024, half of the excise tax revenue will go toward “municipal aid” to “enable municipalities whose neighborhoods have been ravaged by a racially-discriminatory War on Drugs to reduce property taxes, increase services and promote social equity.” The proposal also creates an Equity Commission that is responsible for ensuring that “people and places most affected by the cannabis prohibition benefit from the new legal market.” Of the licenses created, for example, those for delivery, micro-cultivators, and edibles producers would “have lower barriers to entry” in order to “help promote equity in the market.” Cannabis possession convictions from before October 2015 would be automatically erased, and those after that date would require a petition for erasure.
The state’s existing medical cannabis shops will be able to “convert” into adult use shops, as long as they pay a fee. And, of note, adult use licenses will be awarded based on a lottery, which is a departure from the usual application process in other states.
Already, a few cannabis-related bills have been introduced by lawmakers, ahead of the release of Lamont’s proposal, outlining additional aims for an adult use industry. One, for example, H.B. 6377, calls for home cultivation of six plants and required labor peace agreements, neither of which are included in Lamont’s proposal. (When a labor peace agreement is in place between an employer and a union, it means, in short, that the employer has agreed not to interfere with their decision to join a union, should they choose to do so.)
During a public hearing on H.B. 6377 this week, in the Labor and Public Employees Committee, one of the speakers was Ron Petronella, the president of United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 371.
“We are here to address the unique opportunity to create an entirely new industry in our state from the ground up, and our ability to make sure it employs a diverse workforce and creates family sustaining jobs,” Petronella said. “It is my hope that with this bill we are able to create jobs that encourage young people from all backgrounds to put down roots in our state and raise their families on the income they will make as cannabis workers.”
Senator Julie Kushner, who used to work for United Auto Workers, pointed to the example of casinos in the state, and how labor peace agreements were not in place in the early days of the state’s gaming industry. Kushner, along with Representative Robyn Porter, introduced the Act.
“And I think that’s what we’re trying to do here with a new industry like the cannabis industry,” she said. “And I do want to underscore that getting it right in this day and age, it means getting it right both from the perspective of labor rights, but also from the perspective of equity.”
Representative Porter later added a note of agreement. “Most of the people that we’re talking about or thinking about that will actually play a role in the cannabis industry are people that have been harmed the most,” she said. “And rightfully so there should be platforms and ways for them to get into the business. And not just get in, but be able to stay in. Sustainability has to be key. As Senator Kushner stated earlier, labor peace and equity certainly go hand in hand.”
A short while later, Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, spoke. The MCBA has been working with Rep. Porter and Sen. Kushner on the Act.
“Today, at least on this committee, we have the opportunity to change how we talk about legalization, to include economic justice in a way it’s never been included before,” he said. “And I think that is what’s so important about this bill, is while we have the broader conversation about other types of policies in other committees, economic justice has to be part of any legalization effort or it simply will not be successful.”