HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — State lawmakers are headed back to the Capitol in five days. They’ll focus on balancing a two-year $20-billion budget.
Lawmakers are considering revenue generators to help fill expected budget holes. Top of mind: online gaming and adult use of marijuana, which combined could generate jobs and $100 million a year.
RELATED: The power dynamic set to change as 2021 legislative session opens in state capitol
Sen. Kevin Kelly, the Republican Senate Minority Leader, says the budget deficits are massive — “We’re facing down a $4 billion problem this isn’t going to fix that.”
Lawmakers are considering allowing adults to smoke pot legally.
“There is something about personal responsibility in this country that we take very seriously,” adds Representative Matt Ritter, the incoming Democratic House Speaker.
In Connecticut, small amounts of Marijuana are decriminalized. Medical marijuana has been around for nearly a decade. There are four licensed growers, eighteen dispensaries, and an estimated 48,000 patients who have medical cards to legally purchase medicinal marijuana.
Those who want to use it recreationally drive 60-miles north to Massachusetts where it is legal.
Sen. Martin Looney says allowing reformed felons to have permits to sell and a labor peace agreement protecting union jobs are caveats to passage.
“If those provisions are met, then I think the passage of legalization of marijuana has a strong chance,” Looney said.
But Republicans see those as controversial provisions. The non-profit Tax Foundation estimates that in its first year, passing adult use of cannabis could generate $41 million in sales.
What about drug abuse and regulation?
Representative Vin Candelora, the Republican House Minority Leader explains, “people that are vaping 90% THC, it’s led to a lot of other health issues. We need to have these conversations.”
If recreational marijuana is rejected, the process to amend the constitution begins. With a supermajority vote by the legislature, residents would see a ballot question in 2022. Short of that, not until 2024, after each chamber separately approves the measure.
Republicans want the “right of referendum”. Also, a constitutional change. Voters would start a statewide petition for lawmakers to repeal the current law. This is the process voters in Massachusetts used to make legalized marijuana the law of the land.
Online Gaming & Sports Betting
Place your bets on whether online gaming and sports betting will be allowed. Any new gaming law requires the Governor to negotiate an amendment to the Compact made with the state’s two Native American tribes decades ago.
And then there are private sector groups – like Sportech – that want a piece of the gambling pie.
Representative Candelora believes, “They need to have a seat at the table along with our tribes.”
Online gaming and sports betting could generate an estimated $35 million a year according to lobbyists for Sportech. But Native American tribes say it’s their exclusive right. If violated, they won’t pay $250 million in slot revenue.
The incoming speaker says whomever the licensed operator is – he wants to require sportsbooks in the big cities with a cut of the revenue to help mayors pay down debt.
Representative Ritter explains, “They would offer to open up for or five sportsbooks in the cities only. downtown Hartford near the XL Center you’d have a sportsbook with 30 TVs, you’d be able to place bets, gaming bets that become a destination.”
The state’s quasi-public agency, the Connecticut Lottery, is also in discussions to operate the I-Lottery section of this gaming program.
The 2021 Legislative Session begins Wednesday, Jan. 6.