Legislators debated recreational marijuana on the House floor for hours on Wednesday after a tumultuous week for the proposal.
The State Senate passed legalization in the final days of the regular session, but the House ran out of time to take up the bill before the session came to a close. The Senate passed the bill again on Tuesday to start the special session, but not without adding an amendment expanding eligibility for social equity licenses.
Gov. Ned Lamont, a proponent of marijuana legalization, said the amendment “opens the floodgates” for individuals to exploit the social equity licensing system, and said he would veto the bill if it arrived at his desk in that form.
On Wednesday, the House took up the original bill, without the amendment opposed by Lamont. Lawmakers began to debate at 1:30 PM, and continued into the evening, proposing various amendments and questioning leadership on the particulars of the proposal.
The State Senate will reconvene at 9:30 AM on Wednesday to vote on the bill, assuming the legislation, as expected, passes the House later this evening.
State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, opened her questioning with a statistic. She cautioned her fellow legislators against following the path of other states, paraphrasing a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, the state has seen an additional 75 deaths each year as a result of traffic accidents. The paper found no increase in deaths in Washington state.
Noting that Connecticut has about two-thirds of Colorado’s population, Cheeseman said Connecticut could expect to see 48 additional deaths per year.
“Over three years, that’s 144 people,” Cheeseman said. “After three years, 144 of the 151 people sitting in this chamber would be dead.”
Republicans called various amendments to the bill, all of which failed.
One amendment raised by State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, would have expanded law enforcement’s ability to search vehicles if they suspect marijuana use, which failed 81-53 after Democrats raised concerns about racial profiling and clarified that officers are allowed to stop anyone driving erratically.
“I’ve lived racial profiling,” said State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, testifying against the amendment and arguing that the bill does not prevent officers from stopping anyone driving erratically.
Issues of racial equity were raised repeatedly by legislators testifying in favor of the bill.
“I rise in support of a ceasefire on the war on drugs, which has ended up being a war on Black and brown and poor communities,” said State Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton. “We need policy justice for the people targeted, especially those incarcerated.”
State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Canterbury, raised an amendment to legalize marijuana without creating any structure for sales, possession, or cultivation. Dubitsky argued that if Connecticut regulates marijuana commerce, “the state will be a drug dealer,” but the amendment failed 114-21.
This story has been updated to correct Greg Howard’s party affiliation