Connecticut lawmakers have sent a cannabis legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont, who has said he will sign it.
When he does, Connecticut will be the fourth state to legalize cannabis for adult use this year, and the 19th state with an adult use law in the country. The other states to legalize this year were New York, New Mexico, and Virginia.
The Senate cast the deciding vote on Thursday morning. After hours of floor debate on Wednesday, House lawmakers took up and passed the bill by a 76-62 vote, just one day after the Senate narrowly passed the bill. The bill needed final sign off from the Senate, as it had been amended in the House.
“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war. The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety,” Lamont said in a statement Thursday.
“The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets,” he continued, adding, “I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”
Connecticut’s legislature has seen tense debate around whether and how to legalize cannabis this year. The current bill, SB 1201, is largely similar to the version that Senate lawmakers passed during the regular session, which ended last week before House lawmakers could take it up.
One proposed amendment was front and center this week, drawing a veto threat from Lamont’s office: language to allow anyone with a past cannabis arrest, or with a family member who has been arrested, regardless of income, to qualify as an equity applicant.
The House voted Wednesday to reject that language because, Rep. Steve Stafstrom said Wednesday, it was “well understood” that it “became controversial.” The House included an amendment to strengthen, as Stafstrom put it, a “prohibition on legislators getting involved in the cannabis industry,” which would extend to regulators and other officials.
Stafstrom said that the bill was the product of “intense negotiations” throughout the year between lawmakers and Lamont’s office.
“After years of working through legislation, the bill we have before us is a product, a culmination of those efforts and of the study that this chamber has taken in this effort,” Stafstrom said, laying out the restrictions that the bill would place on the industry, including on packaging and advertising, as well as a ban on smoking and vaping in most places.
When it comes to equity, Stafstrom said, “certainly this bill is a start. There’s further work to be done,” he added, by the Social Equity Council that the legislation would create. Stafstrom added that the bill invests tax revenue toward communities “most affected” by the criminalization of cannabis.
Support for legalization in Connecticut remains high, with a May Sacred Heart poll showing nearly 64% support for legalization among Connecticut residents.
Several efforts related to the legalization and regulation of adult use cannabis have been underway this legislative session. Senate lawmakers introduced such legislation on behalf of Lamont in February, and months of negotiations culminated in a compromise bill earlier this month: Senate Bill 1118, “An Act Concerning Responsible and Equitable Regulation of Adult-Use Cannabis.”
Another significant bill introduced earlier this year, H.B. 6377, focused on equity goals for the forthcoming adult use cannabis industry. It included home cultivation of cannabis and required labor peace agreements, as Cannabis Wire reported, which were not included in Lamont’s original proposal. Both are included in the current bill.
Under the current bill, adults aged 21 and older would be allowed to possess 1.5 ounces of cannabis in public, and to grow up to 12 cannabis per household starting in July 2023. (Medical cannabis patients would be allowed to home grow this October.) When sales begin, which is expected in May 2022, a serving of cannabis will be 5 milligrams, and flower products will be capped at 30% THC, while other products (except vapes) would be capped at 60%.
Half of all business licenses types would go toward equity applicants. There are two exceptions: the state’s four current medical cannabis cultivators would be able to transition into the adult use program after giving $500,000 to social equity programs in the state and pay a $3 million fee, and so, too, would existing medical cannabis shops that pay a $1 million fee. A newly-established 15-member Social Equity Council would be in charge of allocating cannabis revenus toward training, loans, and other social equity efforts.
Possession convictions from January 2000 to September 2015 would be automatically erased after January 2023, so long as the conviction was for four or fewer ounces of cannabis.
In addition to the state sales tax and any local taxes, Connecticut would have a potency-based excise tax on cannabis products. (Localities can opt out of allowing cannabis businesses, but if they want to ban sales, will need to do so by referendum. Also, they cannot ban delivery.) Until mid-2023, excise tax revenue would go toward the state’s General Fund, with the exception of up to $50 million that can be set aside for allocation by the Social Equity Council. After July 1, 2023, 60% of excise tax revenue would go toward a Social Equity and Innovation Fund, increasing to 65% in 2026 and 75% in 2028. Also starting in July 2023, 25% of the excise tax revenue would go toward a Prevention and Recovery Services Fund.