Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said he would sign legislation authorizing adult-use cannabis after lawmakers approved it.
“The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets,” Lamont said Thursday after the Senate approved the measure by a 16-11 vote, with nine senators abstaining. “We’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states.
“It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs.”
The House of Representatives one day earlier passed the measure 76-62 with 13 abstentions after a nearly eight-hour debate, sending it back to the Senate for final action. Sen. President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and House Speaker Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, co-sponsored the bill.
It took a special session to enact the bill, as lawmakers could not pass it during the regular session with Republicans threatening a filibuster.
Under the measure, people aged 21 years or older can buy and possess 1.5 ounces of marijuana, or up to five ounces locked at home or in a vehicle’s glove compartment or trunk. Retail sales of recreational cannabis would start no earlier than May 2022.
Lamont projects the cannabis market to generate an estimated $33.6 million by fiscal 2023, rising to $97 million by fiscal 2026. Municipalities will benefit from a 3% sales tax beginning in fiscal 2024, the state will intercept 50% of the excise tax, or $26.8 million, by fiscal 2026, for municipal aid.
Connecticut will become the 19th state, plus the District of Columbia, to legalize weed for non-medical use.
Lamont and several lawmakers invoked social-justice themes, citing Thursday as the 50th anniversary of President Nixon declaring a “war on drugs.”
The bill includes measures to train police officers in detecting and preventing impaired driving, and to expunge criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes. In addition, people from cities burdened from past drug enforcement will qualify for expedited licenses, regardless of criminal record.
“This legislation contains measures that will begin the necessary and long-overdue work of fixing the damage caused by decades of failed drug policies,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven.
According to a poll by Sacred Heart University, 64% of residents surveyed in April supported legalization, while 62% favored the erasure of criminal records for those previously convicted for recreational offenses or possession.
Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, opposed the bill.
“What’s becoming more and more abundantly clear is that this bill is about the money. It’s an insiders’ game, not focused on public health and safety,” he said. “Over the last two weeks we’ve seen fingerprints of the well-connected all over this bill. Language tailored to ensure licenses go to certain individuals found its way into the bill.”
Kroll Bond Rating Agency and S&P Global Ratings rate Connecticut’s general obligation bonds AA and A-plus, respectively. Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings assign respective ratings of Aa3 and AA-minus.