State lawmakers hear from public on legalizing recreational marijuana


HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The battle over the legalization of recreational marijuana took center stage at the Capitol on Monday. Those for and against testified at a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

If the bill gets passed, it would allow anyone over the age of 21 to buy and have up to 1 1/2 ounces of marijuana on them and would be taxed like liquor.

In Chicopee, Mass., 30 miles north of Hartford, there is a marijuana dispensary where any adult can walk in and buy dozens of products containing marijuana.

With other states considering allowing that as well, Connecticut does not want to get left out. Massachusetts already allows it. Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey are looking into it.

Governor Ned Lamont is trying to coordinate with other governors so the policies are similar and there’s not a competition for pot customers across state lines. You’re not supposed to bring pot from that Chicopee dispensary across the border into Connecticut, but unfortunately, that’s not deterring everyone.

Connecticut could make millions of dollars by taxing recreational marijuana sales. There is already a network of growers and dispensaries in place for medical marijuana.

The bill would allow people to erase their records if they were convicted of possessing under 4 ounces of marijuana after October 2015. There is also language addressing drugged driving and blood and urine tests that a police officer can request if a person gets pulled over.

Law enforcement from around the state are not happy about the bill. In 2019, they pulled over an estimated 8,000 people for drunk and impaired driving.

Chief William Wright from Wallingford said he simply doesn’t have enough officers trained to that would give blood and urine tests to a person suspected of drugged driving.

Employers are also concerned about rules around hiring and firing for employees who test positive.

Opponents raised concerns over vaping, which has been a popular way to consume marijuana. New and serious health issues surrounding vaping have come up in the last year. There are also long-standing health concerns about the effects of pot, especially on people in their early 20s.

“We want to try and stop the smoking of tobacco and use of e-cigarettes in our youth but at the same time promoting marijuana,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, North Branford.

“The new drug dealers are white men in suits,” added Melissa Robins of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Nationally.

Ken Welch works with a Coalition for a Better Wallingford. This subject is near to his heart because he lost his stepdaughter to an overdose. He fears that marijuana was her gateway drug.

“If you do it [pass the bill], Taylor would be looking down shedding a tear for all of us,” he said. “My wife and I have dedicated our last eight years to supporting our community and consoling families.”

Other fears include regulating the drug.

“Marijuana can be laced with other drugs, and when it is not regulated there is no way to detect that,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said.

Several people testified that the Cannabis growing facilities should be unionized. There is a bill pending before the Labor Committee that seeks to do that for any producer with more than 50 employees.

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