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, Connecticut Examiner spoke with several legislators to get insight into how they ended up deciding to cast their votes. State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, was one of the votes against the legislation. Formica spoke on the Senate floor about his own experiences with addiction, which he said started at age thirteen with alcohol, but went on to include marijuana and other substances.
“I’m very fortunate that as I come up upon my 40th year of being clean, my children never saw that other person,” Formica said. “I’m most grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to be able to stand here as a result of what I learned after fifteen years of active addiction.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You spoke very personally on the Senate floor about this legislation. How did your past experiences inform your perspective on this bill?
With issues like this, I think it really becomes personal. I simply shared my experience as a young boy about where my addiction story led me. I’m not saying this is going to happen to everybody, but these are the effects that these kinds of legislation can have if we’re not careful.
We’re talking about adult recreational use of cannabis, but if mom and dad are sitting around the house watching a basketball game after dinner enjoying adult use of cannabis, if they have three kids, that story is about the kids too. I don’t think you can separate that out, and I don’t know how you legislate that. How do you tell someone it’s okay to use recreational cannabis if you’re over 21, but you’re living in a house with small children?
What did you hear from constituents about this issue?
I heard from a lot of people on both sides of the issue. As legislators, we get a lot of emails on a lot of subjects, some are form letters generated and signed by people, and others are people that speak from experience and passion. I don’t know if I could say that I had more asking me to vote for than asking me to vote against, or vice versa. I’ve spent most of my adult life supporting efforts around recovery, and you hear a lot of personal stories about people who have been impacted by the use of drugs and alcohol, so I’m sure that had a big effect on my feelings towards it.
Is there a version of this bill that you could have supported?
I’m not sure. If they just came and said, cannabis is legal, you can grow your own or buy this or that…it’s hard to say. I really go back and forth on it, I don’t mean to be evasive. I had a very difficult experience with addiction in the years of my life that were pretty formative, so I think that’s what’s driven my thinking on this issue.
While you don’t support the bill, are there parts of it you appreciate?
I don’t think I’d have an argument with certain erasures of longstanding convictions of minor offenses. A lot of things that happened years ago, people had been imprisoned, saddled with records for what I think we would consider now as insignificant uses of a drug, and that’s not right.
I’ve been in the people business all my life, and at my place of business, we give a lot of second chances. We bring in a lot of people who have had a tough time, and it sometimes works out great, and sometimes doesn’t, but it has to be coming from within. Whether you have a record erased or whether you don’t, it’s a mindset that you bring to the table that’s going to make you successful.