Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the 18th state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes after lawmakers finally sent a cannabis reform bill to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk on Thursday morning, the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The state Senate passed the bill in a 16-11 vote following a debate over a provision on equity licensing eligibility.
Gov. Lamont, who previously threatened to veto it over the eleventh-hour amendment, is now expected to sign the bill that will legalize the use and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis by adults 21 and older as of July 1. However, the launch of commercial cannabis sales is not expected to begin until May 2022.
On Tuesday, senators had approved an amendment, introduced by Sen. Gary Winfield, that would allow those with prior cannabis arrests and convictions and their family members to qualify for social equity status when applying for marijuana business licenses.
The Democratic governor objected to the amendment, arguing that it doesn’t adequately address equity issues. The governor’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds Jr., said in a statement that the rule “allows just about anyone with a history of cannabis crimes or a member of their family, regardless of financial means, who was once arrested on simple possession to be considered with the same weight as someone from a neighborhood who has seen many of their friends and loved ones face significant penalties and discrimination due to their past cannabis crimes.”
A second Senate amendment reportedly addressed the governor’s concerns by clarifying that only those with income equal to three times the state’s median income could qualify for social equity status.
However, House lawmakers removed Senate changes before passing the measure late Wednesday, after hours of floor debate in a 76 to 62 vote with 13 not voting.
The current bill, initially introduced by House Speaker Matt Ritter and Senate President Martin Looney, now includes a preference for people coming from low-income communities defined by census tracts.
In a statment made following the vote, Gov. Lamont said it was fitting that cannabis legalization should happen on the anniversary of the war on drugs.
“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. I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”
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