Pubdate: Sat, 07 Feb 2015
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2015 New Haven Register
Author: Hugh McQuaid,


New Haven lawmaker Juan Candelaria and one of his colleagues are 
seeking to legalize and tax the sale of recreational marijuana in 
Connecticut. They want it to be seen as a revenue generator and boon 
to the state's economy.

Candelaria and Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, have proposed bills to 
legalize marijuana this session. The state has made significant 
changes to its marijuana laws in recent years, establishing a medical 
marijuana program in 2012 and decriminalized small amounts of the 
substance in 2011.

But the lawmakers say it's time for Connecticut to follow states 
including Colorado, Washington and Oregon, where voters have 
legalized the drug.

Candelaria said legalization is "going to happen sooner or later no 
matter what. It may not happen in this legislative session and it may 
not happen in the next, but I'll tell you, within the next five or 10 
years we're going to see it in Connecticut. Let's jump on the 
bandwagon now. We need it today, not five or 10 years from now. We 
need to close a budget deficit today," he said.

"Any state in the Northeast that follows Colorado can really solve 
its fiscal problems," Vargas said in a phone interview Thursday. 
"Maybe the bonanza only lasts a few years while the other states 
catch up, but I think it would really be a shot in the arm of our 
economy." The proposals come at a time when nearby states are 
expected to consider the idea. Here in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. 
Malloy is proposing a series of criminal justice reforms that include 
reducing the severity of nonviolent drug possession crimes from 
felonies to misdemeanors.

However, Malloy has been opposed to legalizing marijuana. In a 
Thursday statement, his spokesman Devon Puglia cited Malloy's 
sentencing reforms and said "the governor has said that he would not 
push for the legalization of marijuana."

Candelaria said he was hoping to make a convincing argument to 
Malloy. In an interview, he said the state Consumer Protection 
Department was already regulating the substance through the medical 
marijuana program and its legal sale would take business away from 
drug dealers. He also pointed to the $1.3 billion budget deficit the 
state is facing in 2016.

Between the two bills, Vargas said the issue should get a public 
hearing this year. He predicted such a hearing would attract 
considerable public testimony. He said it was time society viewed 
marijuana use the same way it views alcohol and tobacco use.

"We know tobacco and alcohol are abused and cause damage to people's 
health," Vargas said. When people abuse them, "we look at it as a 
failure of character or a public health issue. We don't look at it as 
a criminal issue. I believe that marijuana and other drugs down the 
road, should be viewed as a public health issue."
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