Five Southeast Connecticut Legislators Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana


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In Wednesday’s budget address, Gov. Ned Lamont not only called for the legalization of recreational marijuana, but allocated the expected revenue from cannabis sales in his budget, signaling his assumption that the state will legalize within the next year. Lamont also released his own proposed legislation, which was met with mixed feedback from leadership on both sides of the aisle. 

Connecticut Examiner checked in with five state legislators from southeast Connecticut to get their thoughts on the Governor’s legislation. 

I think it’s about time. I think we need to be pretty thoughtful with the revenue, because I’m not a big fan of just considering this as a revenue source. My preference would be that all of the revenue goes to distressed, underserved municipalities and prevention programs throughout the state. I never felt that legalizing pot was a revenue source as much as a social justice issue. Middle class kids in the suburbs never went to jail over being caught with pot, but many many people in the cities did, and their lives got ruined because of it. I’m a very big fan of acknowledging the equity issue and driving the money back to the places where inequities occurred. It’s got to go to the cities of people who were badly impacted by the criminal justice elements of this, but I also think some of the money has to go to prevention programs throughout the state. We need to be very thoughtful about educating our kids and funding prevention programs. Neighboring states are dealing with this, and the tide has turned on marijuana, so the right thing to do now is legalize it, but carefully. 

– State Sen. Norm Needleman (D-Essex) 

I’m an adamant opponent of legalization of retail marijuana. Contrary to the belief that this is a benign substance, the more we see this play out in other states, the more we see increases in drugged driving deaths and youth use. We’re constantly told in the legislature that if it saves one life, it’s worth it. How do we look someone in the face and their father, daughter, is dead because of a drugged driver? From a public health point of view, it’s a disaster. This is not your grandmother’s marijuana. The THC levels are so much higher and so much more damaging, and regular marijuana use is linked to suicidal thoughts, schizophrenia and psychosis. If our neighboring states are legalizing and we decriminalize possession, fine. Go across the border. But particularly as we’re dealing with the pandemic, in crises, people resort to things to get through it, and bringing another substance in that has so many negative effects purely for the sake of revenue, I think, is incredibly misguided.  

– State Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R-East Lyme) 

I’m in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis because I’d rather have the state regulate it as we do liquor than have black market activity be calling the shots. We are also losing millions of dollars in tax revenue to neighboring states.I would vote for this only if it diverted some of the money toward substance abuse prevention and treatment and education, and if there was a restorative justice component for people who’ve been disparately treated in the past for minor nonviolent drug offenses. I’m glad the expungement of records is in the governor’s proposal. I have colleagues who believe that distressed communities should get the first shot at benefitting from this, and I do agree with that. It’s often the case that marginalized communities suffer disparate treatment for minor drug infractions, and then people with resources swoop in and actually make the money off of it, and I just believe that’s wrong. Businesses owned by people of color also don’t have the same access to credit, and those people should not be last in line. I would also prefer to see it legalized for people aged 25 and up, not 21, because of the brain chemistry of adolescents, but I know that’s probably not going to be included, and I’ll still vote for it without that. 

– State Rep. Christine Palm (D-Chester) 

I have a number of concerns with the legalization of adult recreational use of marijuana. We have a very significant defense industry in this state. Electric Boat, Sikorsky and Pratt, I don’t believe any of them tolerate marijuana use for their employees, so it becomes difficult when you have it legalized. I think it will have a negative effect on recruitment for jobs at a time when we’re going to see the need for hundreds of new jobs as helicopters at Sikorsky ramp up and submarines at Electric Boat ramp up, so I have some concerns about how we manage that. 

I also have concerns about proper testing for people who could be potentially impaired. Still, I think there are many states surrounding us that are moving or have moved in that direction, so I think at some point it’s going to be inevitable for this state to do that as well. 

– State Sen. Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) 

I’m not certain that the bill will pass this year because of the questions still swirling around the bill. It’s something I’m paying attention to, but as of this moment, I don’t know if the bill is actually going to become law and I don’t know if I can support it. I want to know what the assumptions were that went into their estimates for the dollars that would come in as a result of the bill, and I don’t think it allocates nearly enough to distressed municipalities. We have two from the list, Norwich and New London, in our neck of the woods, and I don’t think they get nearly enough dollars from this bill. I’ve also put a bill on hiring and training drug enforcement officers every year for three years in a row, and we need to make sure we have enough of them in the state if this passes. 

– State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague)