50 Years After War On Drugs Announced, Connecticut Votes to Legalize Marijuana

On June 17, 1971, then-President Richard Nixon spoke from the White House to declare that “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse, and in order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” 

Fifty years later, on June 17, 2021, the Connecticut state legislature passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana, sending the proposal to the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont, who has said he will sign it. 

During debate on the House floor Thursday morning, State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, highlighted the date’s historical significance, and said that equity provisions in the bill aim to “deal with what has come from the War on Drugs.” 

Legislators expect legal sales of recreational marijuana — and for the state to begin accepting petitions to expunge criminal convictions related to the drug — next summer. 

Anyone convicted of possession of less than four ounces will have their records automatically expunged. Effective July 1, possession of limited amounts of marijuana will be legal for people aged 21 and over. The legislation’s fiscal note projects that annual revenue from taxes and fees on recreational marijuana will bring in $73.4 million each year by fiscal year 2026.  

Heading into this year’s legislative session, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said legalization was all but inevitable, though ironing out the details of the proposal took months of negotiations, including an 11th-hour veto threat from Lamont over an amendment that would have allowed people to qualify for social equity licenses if they, or an immediate family member, had been arrested or convicted on marijuana charges. Lamont said he would veto the bill if it included that amendment, because it applied to people “regardless of financial means.” 

Thursday marked the Senate’s third vote to pass the legislation, as they passed the bill in the final week of the regular session, but the House was unable to vote on the legislation before the end of the regular session. 

Senators passed the bill for a second time on Tuesday to start the special session, but because the version they passed included the controversial amendment, they had to revote on Thursday to confirm the version approved by the House the night before. The House passed the legislation 76-62, with one Republican voting in support, and 12 Democrats opposing. 

“I heard a lot of chatter throughout the afternoon in regards to people of color and Black and Brown people needing to have this,” said State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London. “But I also have to speak for the Black and brown people that don’t want to see legalization of marijuana. There are many out there, especially in my community, that do not want to see marijuana be so easily obtainable.”

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