Leading House Democrats in Connecticut are preparing to hold a vote on a marijuana legalization bill in the next legislative session, and insist that if the state legislature once again overlooks the measure the question will instead be put to voters through a ballot referendum.
A marijuana legalization bill approved by a congressional committee last year which did not receive a vote in the House would likely form the basis for the cannabis reform legislation in the next session.
Speaking at a press conference held at a medical cannabis dispensary, House Speaker Matt Ritter warned a vote on the measure would likely be tight but that it’s not the only option available to legalize marijuana in Connecticut. The week before, Ritter said the measure had a 50-50 chance of passing next year, while a month earlier he described the reform as “inevitable.”
“I think it’ll be a very, very close vote in the House. But if we do not have the votes—and I’m not raising the white flag—I want to be very clear: We will put something on the board to put to the voters of the state of Connecticut to amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana,” Ritter said.
Ritter noted the changed landscape for marijuana reform throughout the region in a short space of time, as well as Connecticut’s own moves to decriminalize marijuana possession in 2011.
“Folks literally take something called a car and they drive in their car and they buy it… [not] only are they going across the border, but they’re coming back to their homes and using it safely,” Ritter said. While this is undoubtedly true, it’s still illegal to cross state borders with marijuana as it remains a federally controlled substance.
Ritter was joined at the press conference by Rep. Michael D’Agostino (D), one of the chairs of the House General Law Committee.
“The foundation exists for adult-use cannabis in Connecticut,” D’Agostino said. “The production facilities exist. The distribution facilities exist. The regulatory structure exists. A bill is drafted from last session. We are ready to go.”
If the vote in the legislature is unsuccessful, then the earliest that voters could have their say via a ballot measure proposing a constitutional amendment is 2022. Getting a measure on the ballot requires either a three-quarters supermajority vote in both chambers of congress on a joint resolution, or a simple majority would be sufficient if a proposal is approved over two legislative sessions.
Ritter and D’Agostino are looking to New Jersey as a model to follow. Lawmakers there couldn’t pass a marijuana legalization bill but agreed on a resolution to hold a vote on the issue through the ballot at the 2020 elections, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
If marijuana legalization appeared on the ballot in Connecticut it would likely pass. A majority of Connecticut voters favor legalizing cannabis according to polling on the issue. All of the marijuana legalization proposals that appeared on state ballots at the 2020 elections were comfortably approved by voters. New Jersey’s successful ballot vote is expected to trigger moves towards legalization in New York and Pennsylvania. Nearby states Maine and Vermont have also legalized adult-use cannabis, as has Connecticut’s neighbor Massachusetts, while Rhode Island is looking at a legalization proposal of its own.