Pubdate: Tue, 13 Mar 2018
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2018 The Hartford Courant
Author: Matthew Ormseth


The idea's been floated before, but recreational marijuana's backers
have so far been unable to convince the Land of Steady Habits to
legalize a new one.

The legislature's General Law Committee will weigh a new bill
legalizing the retail sale of marijuana at a public hearing. The
hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed until
Thursday because of the snowstorm.

The bill, No. 5458, would allow people 21 or older to purchase up to
an ounce of marijuana from a retailer or "marijuana lounge," where
customers would smoke or consume their purchase on-site. Anyone 21 or
older would also be allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use.

In the past, legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have
opposed proposals to legalize marijuana in Connecticut, despite other
New England states legalizing its recreational use. When he presented
his budget this year, Malloy listed legalizing and taxing the sale of
marijuana as an "option" if legislators opposed his proposals for
raising new revenue.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz called legalizing marijuana "one of
those tough crossover issues that brings both a social and economic
aspect with it," but said that, given a growing segment of the state
supports its legal use, it's one the legislature should address.

"With a number of states in the region having either already approved
legalization and regulation, or are trending this way, it's clearly
something that deserves to be looked at," Aresimowicz, a Democrat,
said. "There is also a growing momentum here based on Connecticut's
highly successful medical marijuana program and decriminalization
policy that has been in place for a few years now."

In submitted testimony, West Haven resident Christopher Brown asked
lawmakers to "please be on the right side of history and do what's
right for our state."

"No one should lose their job, their family or their life over
cannabis," Brown wrote to the committee. "It's wrong that we continue
to lock away good people over a harmless plant."

The bill calls for lawmakers to create a Marijuana Control Commission
that licenses and oversees a new range of marijuana facilities,
including retail stores, marijuana lounges and cultivation centers.
All facilities would be subject to Department of Consumer Protection
oversight, including regular inspections and spot checks. Any facility
that grows, handles or sells marijuana would have to install alarms
and video systems and maintain a physical security presence.

Kebra Smith-Bolden, a registered nurse who founded CannaHealth, a New
Haven center that conducts medical marijuana evaluations, called the
proposed lounges "a beautiful thing."

"When you legalize and you don't offer options for people to consume,
it's not responsible," she said. "We want people to be responsible,
and not smoke in the street or around children."

The bill would allow towns and municipalities to bar any marijuana
establishment from their limits, either through an ordinance or a
simple town meeting. Marijuana transactions carried out by anyone not
employed by a marijuana retailer or lounge would be illegal.

Ronnie Kronen, who described himself in submitted testimony as a
cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, criticized the riches
he said dealers and medical dispensaries are reaping from the state's
prohibition on pot.

"This weed costs pennies to grow and we should be allowed to grow it,"
he wrote.

Critics of recreational marijuana have said legalizing cannabis for
people 21 and older has increased its consumption among those too
young to legally smoke it. The bill contains provisions to use some of
the facilities' licensing and regulatory fees to fund educational
programs in schools, and prohibits mass-market advertising campaigns
"that have a high likelihood of reaching children."

Recreational marijuana's opponents were unconvinced.

"I just don't see how making drugs more available to people is going
to help our country's addiction problem," said Bo Huhn, a Guilford
resident and member of two groups opposed to legalizing recreational
marijuana. "It's clear from other states that legalizing marijuana
leads to more drug use, and more drug use among kids."

Huhn said his own family was devastated when his daughter developed a
crack addiction in 10th grade. "Look -- people who say marijuana has
nothing to do with moving on to heroin or hard drugs are wrong," he
said. "They're always going to start with alcohol in the basement, or
marijuana in the woods. I wouldn't feel so strongly about this if it
wasn't for the kids, and the legislature needs to ask: Is more kids
heading down that path something they want?"
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