Early Tuesday morning, the State Senate passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Connecticut. The proposal received bipartisan support and opposition, and passed with just a two-vote margin of 19-17. The House will now take up the bill Wednesday, with House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, saying he is confident it will pass before the end of the session at midnight.
After a debate that stretched for hours on the Senate floor, Connecticut Examiner spoke with several legislators to get insight into how they ended up deciding to cast their votes. State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, voted against the legislation. Anwar is also a doctor who specializes in the treatment of lung disease.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you decide to vote against the legislation?
I looked at it purely from a medical point of view, and I feel that the health and safety issue is critical. I had suggested some changes in the bill when being planned, but because of the overwhelming views of a lot of activists and proponents that were not in line with how I felt it would be safer medically, I could not support the final bill.
What were some of the changes you suggested?
I thought the age should be 25 rather than 21, and that we needed better management of the impairment of decision-making power that comes from using cannabis with alcohol. I think the risk of accidents needs to be very clearly understood and managed. Motor vehicle accidents may be increasing in Colorado and other places, and that needed to be in the picture as well. The third thing that was very important to me was the delivery mechanism. The majority of people consume cannabis by smoking, and smoking is associated with oral and lung cancers, even cannabis smoking. I’m fighting the tobacco industry like crazy every day. I cannot in good conscience support something that can lead to oral and lung cancers. I think the addictive potential is a big issue as well. Nine percent or so of cannabis users have a high risk of addiction, and we don’t have predictive mechanisms around that.
The bill also needed to have very robust protection for the medical marijuana industry, and I felt that part of the bill was not as strong either. There are people who are hurting who have medical reasons to be on cannabis, and this bill negatively impacts them. If there are limited cannabis growers, the supply and demand equation completely changes when you legalize recreational cannabis, so the ones who have medicinal programs already in place with hundreds if not thousands of patients undergoing treatments would go to the recreational world. It will become cost prohibitive for people who are on medicinal cannabis, and that could have a negative impact on existing programs. Federal jobs are also an issue we’ll have to deal with. The federal government has its perspective and that is not changing at this time, so in absence of change, this would be limiting young boys and girls to potentially achieve those federal jobs.
Is there a version of this bill that you could have supported?
To me, the safety and wellbeing of individuals and the general population is critical, and if we were able to make it much safer and reduce the risk of long term issues, I would have supported legalization. I was not an absolute no, but I asked if we could make it safer, and we could not, so to me, that’s the priority.
There were a lot of stakeholders in the picture, lots of activists in the community, and some of the legislators respected where I was coming from, but it was difficult to change a lot for me and keep the stakeholders’ support. My definition or expectation of legalization is different from what many people wanted. From the moment I saw the initial versions of the bill, it was pretty clear that I could not support it, and I explained the parts that would need to be fixed before I would be able to support it.
While you don’t support the bill, are there parts of it you appreciate?
The part about the historical need for justice around this is very critical. I had suggested there should have been two bills, which would have been tricky to do, but the theory was, one bill about the historical wrong we have done with war on drugs used wrongfully for imprisoning black and brown people and investment back in communities, separate from legalization. I loved that part of the bill and would have supported it on its own.