Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill into law on Tuesday that legalizes recreational marijuana.
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. Ten Democrats and three Republicans were absent from the vote.
One of those Democrats was State Rep. Joe de la Cruz of Groton, who ran unopposed in 2020 and beat his Republican opponent handily in 2018. The Connecticut Examiner spoke with de la Cruz about how he came to the decision not to vote on the bill.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you decide not to cast a vote on the marijuana bill?
I was 100 percent against the issue, but I was so furious about the way things were handled at the end of the session that I made a decision that night to not be part of obstruction. It’s just not right, and I didn’t want to be the person the members of the other party relied on to kill the bill. I was so furious because I’m one of the few who works full-time, so I’m torn between work and Hartford in ways that most people aren’t. We were all committed to stay there until midnight to finish out the session, and that night, on my way home, I just screamed at the top of my lungs about how mad I am about how this system works.
Do you oppose filibustering in general, even if it’s a bill you strongly disagree with?
It’s like what’s happening in Washington with the voting rights bills. I don’t believe in the filibuster there, and I don’t believe in it in Hartford, either. People said, Joe, it’s just a horrible look for you to be here and not vote, and I get that, and I had a lot of explaining to do to a lot of folks who were relying on my no. But I did not want to be part of obstruction, and if the votes are there, you get to a point where you’ve talked about it enough. Government moves slowly, but it should function, when we get in each other’s way, it stops being government and starts becoming a dam of ideas where nothing gets through.
Why do you oppose marijuana legalization?
Most of it came from my work. Electric Boat came out against the bill, as did Pratt & Whitney, which are two of our major employers. They really don’t have a choice. They’re not allowed to hire people who test positive for marijuana. Connecticut is married to the defense department more than most states, especially in my region. People in the middle or down by New York City really have no idea what impact Electric Boat has here. It activates an entire economy. I don’t like that the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, and I would have much less of a problem with legalizing it here if that wasn’t the case.
Have you heard from people unable to find work in your district because of marijuana use?
I coached basketball, baseball and wrestling before I came up to Hartford, so I know hundreds of kids, and I’ve had the same conversation probably 40 times. I ask these kids I know and love why they’re working at Walmart, why they’re in landscaping, when Electric Boat is literally right next door. They say, coach, I can’t pass the test, and I want to scream. These are entry-level positions starting at $50,000 a year, and after a few years, you’re making nearly six figures. If we’re going to legalize this, we need to go into schools and make sure kids know that it’s still illegal at the federal level and can have real consequences for the rest of their lives and careers.
Do you think you could have supported this bill if the federal government handled cannabis differently?
I would have been much closer to supporting it, and I would have felt a lot better about it. The work issue was one I really couldn’t get past, so it kept me steadfast as a no, but I do still think there are other issues. I’m concerned about the THC content, and about what will happen to the black market, because kids are still going to spend $200 on an ounce of weed illegally before dropping $600 on it legally.
My son was addicted to opiates, and I remember conversations with him when he was a teenager and starting to smoke marijuana where I would say, Joey, it’s illegal. It gave me that little leg up as a parent to explain why I didn’t want him to do it, and it’s going to be very hard for parents to have that conversation now.