Hartford Council Favors Legal Marijuana, Advocates Urge Legislators To Again Debate Issue

After Hartford’s city council unanimously approved a resolution in favor of legalizing and taxing marijuana, advocates are urging state lawmakers to revisit the issue when they reconvene in February.

Hartford’s resolution directs the city to conduct an economic impact study for a potential cannabis industry in Hartford and hold public forums on the issue.

“The legislature should heed this growing chorus for change and make regulating marijuana for adults a priority in 2018,” said Sam Tracy, director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana.

Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez sponsored the resolution, which passed at Monday night’s meeting. It also calls for measures to “ensure racial equity in ownership and employment” in the cannabis industry to be included in any legislation to legalize marijuana.

“At this point it’s no longer a matter of if it will become legal, but when and how it will get regulated,” Bermudez wrote recently.

Earlier this fall, Sacred Heart University conducted the first public opinion poll on marijuana in Connecticut in several years and found 71 percent of state residents supported legalizing and taxing marijuana for adults.

But state legislators have still hesitated to push the issue. This spring, lawmakers held the first legislative public hearings in Connecticut on legalizing and taxing marijuana, but a handful of bills died in committee.

Some supporters of legal marijuana have argued it could be an important new revenue stream for the state. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that legalizing and taxing marijuana in Connecticut using a model similar to Colorado’s would bring in nearly $64 million in the first full year.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not running for a third term, opposes expanding marijuana laws beyond the state’s medical program. But several of the Democratic candidates vying to succeed him are more open to the idea.

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew and Jonathan Harris, the former commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, spoke in favor of marijuana legalization at a forum at Yale University last month.

“Yes, I will sign a bill to legalize it,” said Drew.

Harris said he supports marijuana legalization as long as it is done in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

“We need to grapple with this issue … but we have to do it because it’s good public policy,” he said.

At a debate last week, Republican gubernatorial candidates were nearly all opposed to legalizing marijuana with several saying it was inappropriate to do so at the same time an opioid overdose epidemic was gripping the state.

“Let’s not rush into something where you do not have enough information on the long-term consequences,” said state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury.

“You’re going to have to convince me because I think public health and safety trumps a little bit of revenue,” said David Walker of Bridgeport.

Massachusetts voters last year approved a ballot question to legalize marijuana and marijuana shops are expected to open up there next summer.

Connecticut does not have a ballot question process, so legalization is up to the General Assembly. No state legislature, to date, has legalized recreational marijuana separate from a voter initiative.

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