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. Michael DiGiovancarlo of Waterbury, who defeated Republican incumbent Stephanie Cummings 52.9 percent to 47.1 percent last November. The Connecticut Examiner spoke with DiGiovancarlo about how he 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?
I’m in my 16th year as a police officer in Waterbury, Connecticut, so as a law enforcement officer, this was an easy vote for me. This bill adds another level of impaired drivers on the road, and fatalities spiked a pretty good percentage after passing this drug in Colorado. In trying to decide what’s best for people, I thought it was the right decision to vote no.
Do you see anything positive coming from this bill?
At least I know a young, 21-year-old kid going to smoke weed for the first time is at least buying a safe product, not something off the street laced with fentanyl. I do like the fact that they are going to get a safe product. I also knew it was going to pass, and I know a ton of people with Connecticut plates are buying it up in Massachusetts. I just didn’t want the decision to be based on money and revenue. I sent a survey out to constituents, and it heavily came back that they were against marijuana, 60 to 70 percent no, though the survey did skew more conservative and older people.
If those survey results had come back and 90 percent of your constituents wanted legal marijuana, would you have voted differently?
It would have made the decision a lot more difficult. I vote with my conscience, but your constituents are the people who put you in there, and you want to vote the way they want you to, too. I do think that even if my vote upset a few constituents, they’ll understand the situation I’m in because I’m a police officer, and I voted based on public safety.
How much has marijuana come up in your job as an officer?
I’ve made marijuana arrests, but over the years, interest in enforcing it has been lost, so it’s slowly become something that’s less enforced even before this bill, which could be a good thing. I don’t think the drive has been there for officers to grab every person smoking marijuana. I’ve been more apt to use my discretion to give someone a break and look the other way, just telling them not to do it again. That’s been the attitude overall lately, if you’re going to jail in Connecticut nowadays, you’ve probably really earned it.
How do you feel about the law enforcement provisions of the legalization bill?
The law puts a lot of money towards Drug Recognition Experts, because this is different from alcohol where any officer can have someone blow into a breathalyzer and get a quick response of whether or not they’re impaired. For marijuana, it’s a 12-step process and you need to call a DRE officer to come run through those steps. The bill puts a lot of money towards certifying and training these officers, and overall there’s plenty of funding for law enforcement.