Connecticut Becomes the 19th State to Legalize Adult Use of Marijuana
State governor Ned Lamont signed a bill Tuesday making Connecticut the 19th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for adult use. Under the law, people aged 21 and above will be allowed to possess and consume marijuana starting July 1.
While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the last couple of months have seen a spike in states that have advanced their state law to allow recreational use of the substance. New Jersey and New York were early to move on and legalize pot this year. Virginia and New Mexico were to follow in April, with Virginia becoming the first state in the south to introduce a bill.
With Connecticut now being the latest on the list, the U.S. has reached a point where almost half of its population lives on a territory where cannabis legal for recreational and medical use.
"We had a chance to learn from others, and I think we've got it right here in the state of Connecticut," said Gov Lamont, a Democrat, referring to the multiyear effort to push through a legalization bill during a ceremony at the state capital. "Maybe we weren't the first but we were the first, I think, to show that we can get it right."
The legislation got final approval from both chambers of the General Assembly last week during a special legislative session. However, Republicans and some Democrats in the General Assembly strongly opposed the legislation. The Connecticut Medical Society also criticized the bill, saying the bill will have a harmful effect on youths.
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford nevertheless welcomed the bill, saying, "I think it will be the most comprehensive and best cannabis legalization bill in the country."
"History will tell us if that's true or not, but I feel confident in saying yes, right now, this is the best bill in the country and it's going to move us in a direction of ensuring that we provide a well-regulated marketplace for adult-use cannabis for adults who want to participate in that kind of activity," Rojas said.
Rojas said state lawmakers would be happy to address issues raised by the physicians, noting there will be opportunities for the law to be revisited and revised in future sessions, as is the practice with other major and complicated laws.
Connecticut's law will enable individuals 21 and above to possess or use up to 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams) of cannabis plant material and up to 5 ounces (141.7 grams) in a locked container at home or in the trunk or locked glove box in the person's vehicle. At the earliest, sales of legal pot in the state will commence during the summer of 2022.
While the law clarifies how the cannabis industry can develop state-wide, it also aims to address racial inequality issues.
The advocacy group that lobbied for the bill has noted that the legislation sets aside 50% of licenses for equity applicants, targetting residents of communities that have been "disproportionately impacted" by drug-related crimes and high unemployment. In addition, up to 75% of revenue will be dedicated toward equity efforts and community reinvestment, the group also said.
Under the legislation, people will be able to apply in different ways to get involved in the state's new budding market.
What's the Impact on Federal Legalization?
With 19 states riding the wave of full cannabis legalization, the heat is up for federal legalization. As recently as 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states ever to allow adult use of cannabis at the state level. Since then, the shift has been remarkable.
Of the 15 states where marijuana legalization was put on the ballot since 2012, the initiative turned successful in 13, including Republican-dominated Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota (although South Dakota's measure is currently halted). In the November 2020 election, the legalization initiative in swing state Arizona won almost 300,000 more votes than either of the two running candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Those are just only some of the instances where the public has spoken loud and clear. At a certain point, lawmakers nationwide will have few options left but welcome wholesome regulations on cannabis. That being said, federal legalization is imminent in the near future.