Connecticut Lags Behind Neighbors in Marijuana Efforts, Say Industry Experts

Vincente Sederberg, a Colorado-based law firm that played a key role in passing Colorado’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative, hosted a panel on Thursday afternoon to discuss the state of marijuana legalization in the tri-state area. 

The panel also featured Michael Huttner, managing director of Young America Capital, and experts from Vincente Sederberg, including Michelle Bodian, a senior associate at the firm, Andrew Livingston, director of Economics & Research, Jennifer Cabrera, counsel, and Elliot Choi, counsel. 

Vincente Sederberg has advised local, state and national governments around the world, including in Uruguay, the first country to legalize marijuana.

In comments, Michelle Bodian, a senior associate at the firm, placed Connecticut third, behind New York and New Jersey, in efforts to legalize use of the drug.

“Unfortunately, in the tri-state race to legalization, Connecticut is in third place,” Bodian said. “The Governor talked in his State of the State about the importance of legalization. And the administration is shopping around a proposal to various agencies for feedback. From that point, the draft bill will become publicly available in his budget, which usually comes out around mid to end of February.”

Connecticut currently has 49,356 medical marijuana patients, or 1.4 percent of the state’s population, compared to an estimated 454,467 residents who have consumed cannabis in the last month — nearly 13 percent of residents — according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

Last November, New Jersey overwhelmingly voted in favor of a ballot measure supporting personal cannabis use, though details of the legislation are still being finalized between the state legislature and governor, particularly with regard to penalties for underage possession. 

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included marijuana legalization in his budget proposal, and state legislators have a separate piece of legislation — the two proposals differ in their  details, including whether home-grown cannabis would be legalized, and whether a percentage of tax revenue would be directed toward social equity causes. 

When asked for advice to share with advocates in Connecticut, Bodian emphasized making sure not to focus too much on state leaders when local leaders play a key role as well. In both New York and New Jersey, municipalities will likely be able to opt out of legalization, so buy-in from the state government will not be enough. 

“While there’s no bill yet to be talking about, there’s also an advantage to having time to advocate for what would be best for yourself and your business before it’s too late,” Bodian said. 

Last year, the three states formed a Cannabis Regulators Association to make sure the states were aligned on child safety packaging and labeling, so requirements would be consistent across state lines. Still, the experts anticipate that the states will likely not move in lockstep, at least in part because there is a competitive advantage for legalizing first. 

“I think it might be quite similar to their COVID coordination, where they are coordinating, but in practice, they’re going their own way,” Cabrera said. “New Jersey’s tax rate is probably going to be lower than New York or Connecticut, but I imagine there will be a bit of coordination. These states have a track record of working well together.”

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