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Recreational Marijuana Debate in Connecticut

As the school year approaches and townships lean on legislators to address the budget crisis, it is likely that all possible sources of revenue will be up for debate, including the implementation of a recreational marijuana program. While it is difficult to predict how Connecticut would handle a transition from a medical to a recreational program, we can certainly learn a few things by analyzing the debate on the most recent proposed legislation on the matter.

On June 6th, 2017, the day before the adjournment of the 2017 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly, the Connecticut House debated HB 7320, a bill that examines the financial impacts of marijuana legalization on the state of Connecticut.

Representative Josh Elliott, a Democrat who represents Hamden, is one of the many who offered the amendment. As part of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, this bill was specifically looking at the financial benefit to the state. Although the bill focused on the financial aspects of legalization, many supporters brought up their other reasons for legalization which include civil liberties, other legal drugs in our state, the black market and the social justice issues inherent in the war on drugs.

However, many who are against legalization believe revenue should not be the reason behind legalization, and we should be examining other issues. One of the most common concerns surrounding marijuana legalization is the lack of a test to screen for intoxication. Another concern is the effect on children.

Republicans and Democrats alike have united in support of this bill and firmly believe the language in the bill will address any fears or concerns. Elliott further asserts, "If you truly believe this is a social ill, then let's use the money raised by the taxation to fund research and education".
Supporters argue that by regulating the industry, the state would be making it safer for adults of a legal age (21+) to use marijuana. Representative Juan Candelaria, a Democrat from New Haven, tells the assembly that he was once unsure of his position, but firmly changed his mind when he realized that marijuana, along with harder drugs, were readily available at public schools, and that drug dealers were trying to get their children hooked on drugs. Candelaria also tells a heartbreaking story of a family friend, who at 23 years old, passed away from smoking marijuana that was laced with embalming fluid. He firmly believes that with the regulation and testing of marijuana products, passing this bill would save lives.

Others are against the legalization of marijuana, claiming marijuana is addictive. Many believe the reality is that people with addictive personalities can overdo their use of marijuana, just as they would with anything- whether that's legal alcohol, other legal drugs, and even food or exercise.

Many members of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee asked the General Assembly to imagine not only the money that comes from taxation, but the jobs that would be created from the passing of this bill. Many of the figures used in the debate came from studies in Colorado, which legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012. However, many in favor of legalization turned to our northern neighbors, Massachusetts, who voted to legalize marijuana for adult use in November of 2016. Even though the state has not yet begun to sell marijuana, their property values are increasing and the state's economy has been flourishing.

Elliott ends his argument asking the room, "Do we want to be late, or do we want to be leaders?"

-April Arrasate, Esq.

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