On Friday, after more than 12 hours of testimony from Connecticut lawmakers and members of the public on Gov. Ned Lamont’s legalization plan, a handful of major themes emerged. Among them: equity, and whether the bill is specific enough in its definitions, the potential for impaired driving, labor peace agreements, and the ban on home grow. More than 130 people signed up to testify.
Senate Bill 888, put forth as part of the governor’s budget plan, would establish an Equity Commission and would create licenses for small cannabis businesses. But on Friday, while lawmakers and members of Lamont’s administration fielded a wide range of concerns and suggestions, many speakers said that the equity provisions just don’t go far enough.
Those comments also came from lawmakers whose votes are needed to see such legislation across the finish line.
Rep. Robyn Porter said that Senate Bill 888 is being put forth as a “comprehensive bill,” but falls short on equity. Porter has pushed, alongside Senator Julie Kushner, separate legislation that would allow for home cultivation and require labor peace agreements, saying both are required for an equitable adult use industry.
“Equity has not been defined. It’s on the back burner, I would say,” Porter said during Friday’s hearing.
Like Porter, many of those who testified said that they support legalization itself, but didn’t agree on some of the specifics in Lamont’s plan.
“While we support this bill in concept as a way to legalize cannabis and move toward honoring individual privacy rights, preventing discrimination, and remedying the disparate burdens that cannabis enforcement has placed on youth, communities of color, and poor communities throughout our state, the actual bill before us fails to achieve full legalization or long overdue equity,” Kelly McConney Moore, interim senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut (ACLU-CT), said in written testimony.
McConney Moore, and several other speakers, urged lawmakers to consider the “robust equity provisions” in House Bill 6377, An Act Concerning Labor Peace Agreements and a Modern and Equitable Cannabis Workforce, the legislation pushed by Porter and Kushner.
The governor’s proposal doesn’t allow residents to grow their own cannabis, a policy area that is increasingly a source of tension during legalization discussions.
“On home grow, that is something that we are not able to do at this point in time. It is something that we think has negative public policy consequences, but it is something that is under review and something that we intend to speak about with the legislature in future years,” said Mohit Agrawal, deputy policy director in the Office of the Governor.
Rep. Dan Champagne brought the conversation back to equity, as it pertains to home cultivation, and said that while he’s not “for” policies that allow for home grow, it’s permitted in bordering Massachusetts.
“Legalizing this for somebody to grow at home, boy that would create equity across because now people would be able to afford it because they can cultivate their own,” Champagne said during the hearing. “Somebody already said this isn’t about the money. And if it’s not about money, why are we protecting the industry?”
Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), wrote in testimony that lawmakers can “do better” than SB 888, and encouraged committee members to “either heavily amend or outright oppose this bill without serious improvements in equity, justice, and compassion.”
“SB888 fails to achieve the bare minimum of equity goals in that it does not decriminalize most cannabis crimes by it’s glaring omission of the legalization of home cultivation. No longer risking arrest for growing a plant in your home must be at the center of what legalization is. If we can still go to prison for growing it, it’s not truly legal,” Ortiz wrote in testimony opposing SB 888.
Porter also asked if incarcerated people were included in the drafting of the legislation, and asked how this legalization plan will “support” tribal residents. “How will they participate and be able to take advantage of this very lucrative market that we’re talking about here in Connecticut?” Porter asked.
Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, responded, “We have not had direct conversations with the tribal nations in the state … and they have not approached us to have a direct conversation as it deals with the bill for this current year.”
Porter responded, “I’ll be sure to make that connection for you, because they have had some very deep and thoughtful conversations with us.”
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which is not currently involved in the cannabis industry, in fact submitted written testimony, neither in favor of or opposed to the legislation, but instead asking that “you include in any bill that legalizes cannabis for adult use, language to enable the State of Connecticut and Tribes to enter into compacts concerning the regulation, production and sale of cannabis by Indian Tribes in Connecticut,” as is the case in Washington State, Oregon, and Nevada.
“We believe these compacts will facilitate and promote a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between the State and the Tribes, enhance public health and safety, ensure a lawful and well-regulated cannabis market, encourage economic development for both State and Tribal businesses, and provide fiscal benefits to all governments,” the Tribe wrote. “Just as the State has expressed an interest in working with surrounding states regarding cannabis legalization, it would be mutually beneficial for the State and interested Tribes to create a cohesive regulatory structure.”
There was also considerable discussion about the potential for increased youth use and impaired driving. To date, while 15 states and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for adult use, there is no agreed upon threshold for cannabis-impaired driving. As Cannabis Wire has reported, recent research has called into question whether per se limits are effective, and without a test analogous to the alcohol breathalyzer, regulators and policy makers have had to lean on Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), who are members of law enforcement trained to spot impaired driving. Connecticut’s Police Chiefs Association shared their opposition in written testimony, pointing to the lack of a roadside test as their reason.
“Probably not too far down the road, you will see technology catch up to what’s going on with the law,” said Sharon Geanuracos, director of legal services for the Department of Motor Vehicles, on Friday.
Agrawal noted that numbers, as they pertain to cannabis-impaired driving, “are difficult to assess.”
“The governor’s perspective here is that cannabis is already used in Connecticut. Cannabis is soon to be legal, or is legal, in neighboring states. And so we need to put in place a regime for traffic safety that helps our state’s police and our state’s criminal justice organizations really move forward and keep the roads safe,” Agrawal said.
Labor peace agreements, which are not required in the governor’s plan, came up several times during the lengthy hearing. 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, and the workers agree not to strike or otherwise interrupt work.
Porter emphasized the importance of labor peace agreements, adding that she was “really confused when the bill actually came out,” because they weren’t included.
Sal Luciano, president of Connecticut AFL-CIO, a federation of Connecticut unions representing more than 220,000, said that the AFL-CIO “supports the concept of legalizing recreational use of cannabis. But we think the governor’s bill requires modification.”
“We encourage the General Assembly to add the missing equity standards and worker protections as conditions for authorizing the new industry,” Luciano said, adding that with the creation of a new industry needs to come with special attention paid toward building a strong foundation for protection of the workforce with fair pay,benefits, and safe working conditions.
“The best way to create good jobs in this industry is to make labor peace agreements a condition of licensure and require the construction or renovation of cultivation and retail facilities include prevailing wage standards and project labor agreements,” Luciano said, adding that these agreements “provide stability that will lessen turnover and reduce involvement in the underground market.”
Barbara Brohl, the former executive director of the Department of Revenue in Colorado, and member of former Governor John Hickenlooper’s cabinet until 2017 when she left to start a consulting firm on government affairs, was asked to speak by the Marijuana Policy Project. Brohl said that the legislation language “that was really of interest” to her was the Social Equity Commission.
“I really liked the fact that you’re going to be using portions of tax dollars to support these communities that were disproportionately impacted and setting up some real specific qualifications,” Brohl said, emphasizing that that special attention would need to be paid to fee structures and ownership requirements.
“What we’ve seen across the country is there’s a tendency at times to have the minority business owner be basically a figurehead and others are actually running it,” Brohl said.