Last Thursday, the 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 into law on Tuesday. Effective July 1, possession of limited amounts of marijuana will be legal for people aged 21 and over, and legal sales of the drug are expected to begin next summer. The House passed the legislation 76-62, with one Republican voting in support, and 12 Democrats opposing.
One of those 12 Democrats is State Rep. Michelle Cook of Torrington, who beat Republican Molly Spino by just 304 votes last November. In that presidential election, Torrington went to President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden, 54.8 percent to 43.3 percent. The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Cook about how she came to the decision to vote no.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How easy of a decision was this vote for you?
It’s hard, because this was not something where I walked in and said that because I don’t believe in it, I’m not going to vote for it. That’s not who I am. I’ve been very consistent on this for about 13 years since I’ve been in office, but it’s been an ongoing conversation. I’m a firm believer that my personal opinions should be checked at the door, and you do what’s best for what your constituents. I’ve always been a no on the legalization of marijuana, though over the years, I’ve come to better understand some of the reasons why people have chosen to go in that direction. Still, the pros did not outweigh the cons for me.
What about your views on this issue have evolved over the years?
I completely understand the disproportionate unfairness you have with minority populations compared to someone of means. This was never discussed for my whole entire life, but as we started looking at this legislation, it’s become more evident. I have voted to decriminalize marijuana in the past, and have voted for medical marijuana, so I’m not totally opposed to that conversation as a concept. Still, I listen to my police officers, and I have 50 sober homes in my town. Overdoses are back on the rise, and while people are not necessarily overdosing from marijuana, it’s definitely the beginning for some people. Folks I’ve spoken to with chronic addictions have said, I started with this and then I went to that. I have four kids, and I vowed when I entered office that I wouldn’t do anything my kids would not be proud of. My youngest is 21 and my oldest is 34, and they can give me a good debate on why it should or should not be legal, but I can give them a good debate too.
Do they agree with how you voted?
One of them absolutely does, she’s a pediatric nurse. My 34-year-old, he says, when was the last time you heard of someone dying from a marijuana overdose, versus someone dying from complications due to alcoholism? He’s absolutely right, I can’t argue that, but I can say that neither one is good for you.
While it may not be remotely feasible politically, do you think allowing anyone 21 years of age or older to consume unlimited alcohol is a policy worth reconsidering?
Would I change the 21-year-old drinking age to make it 25? Or maybe change the fact that you can buy any amount of alcohol on any given day? I don’t know. It’s just so predominant in our society. Would I change restrictions on the types of things that we’re producing when we talk about things geared toward younger populations to make it enticing? That for me is troublesome. Just as we changed the way we market tobacco, I would like to see alcohol marketed in a more limited manner.
How do you feel about the way the marijuana bill regulates marketing?
I’m very concerned. We have gummy bears and mouth spray and cookies and brownies. I am concerned about all of the fun, trendy things that might entice somebody, not just a younger person, maybe an older person who wouldn’t smoke a joint but might chew a gummy. How much does it take for somebody to decide that one gummy needs to be 3, needs to be 5? I’m not an expert in that, I just don’t think we need to put our kids in those types of positions. It’s hard enough to be a kid these days.
While you oppose legalization overall, are there parts of this bill you appreciate?
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will be able to get a good amount of money for addictive services, information and education. I respect them immensely and understand that, but I also don’t think we should do something just because of the dollars and cents. But I do appreciate the money they have promised for substance abuse and education and services, those pieces I can get behind.