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, and is waiting for a vote in the House.
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. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, who has made news recently after being charged with five counts of wire fraud related to state campaign funding, voted against the legislation.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you decide to vote against the legislation?
It was a very difficult decision to vote no on that piece of legislation. Ultimately, what caused me to vote no is that I don’t see the ability to ensure the communities targeted by the war on drugs are captured in the legal industry. Inclusionary language is nothing new in legislatures, whether federal or state. Throughout the civil rights movement, everyone talked about having minorities receive preferential treatment to make sure they can participate in marketplaces, and historically, large corporations have found ways to get around that.
What loopholes does this bill leave open for corporations to circumnavigate?
When we look at contracts that happen now, oftentimes developers and contractors will place their wives as owners of business and circumnavigate minority preferences. We don’t actually see more participation of minority groups. With marijuana legislation, the same thing is happening again, because the legislation includes gender and sexual orientation as minority classifications.
I haven’t seen any studies that gay or lesbian people are targeted by disproportionate narcotics policing in their community, so I’m not sure why that category was placed there. Plus, unlike gender or race or national origin or disability, where you can produce evidence that shows you meet the qualifications, sexual identity is oftentimes fluid, so there is no way to verify that that person actually is of a particular sexual orientation. It opens itself up for more people to manipulate the process. My other concern dealing with corporations is that they have specifically targeted Black America when we talk about vices. They target us with alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. These corporate participants are not good partners in our community.
How do you feel about the social equity measures in the bill?
The argument is that social equity funding will go to Black-owned businesses, but that is the same thing said with every vice we ever passed, most recently gambling. They said they were going to fund public education, and they did, but they also stripped us of historical funding, so getting less money now than prior to legalization of gambling. New legislators come in and the old revenue source goes somewhere else, so it’s not actually an increase, it might be flat lined or at times even less than before.
Is there a version of this bill that you could have supported?
One hundred and ten percent. I gave leadership a list of things that needed to happen to ensure we would not have corporations come in and run the show and victimize Black communities. None of my concerns were taken up by leadership, and it was all done behind closed doors. They gave us this bill in the last hour and gave it to us to read through the day we had to vote on it.
While you don’t support the bill, are there parts of it you appreciate?
I agree with all of the things that deal with the expungement of records and trying to rectify some of the abuses that happened in the criminal justice system. Still, I don’t think we need to have legalization to do expungement or rectify systemic abuses in the criminal justice system. People should be able to once again get their good names restored, and I don’t think that needed to be melded together in this fashion.
When did you decide how you were going to vote?
I was on the fence from the very first day Lamont announced this in his budget. I found out from the news, and it was starting from this position of, it’s my way or the highway. We’re coequal branches of government, it’s not like you’re the governor and you’re king. We work together on legislation, so right off the bat I took issue with governing in that fashion.