As the state senate was voting to legalize marijuana, Paul Mounds, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff, released a statement that threatened to upend the entire process. Mounds made clear that the governor would veto the marijuana bill as written, unless an amendment added that day was removed.
The amendment, introduced by State Sen. Winfield, D-New Haven, would have prioritized people previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes and their immediate family members for licenses to sell marijuana. But according to the statement, Lamont opposed letting anyone previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes, “regardless of financial means,” qualify for a special social equity license.
“This measure as amended fails to achieve the goals and the needs of our state when it comes to equity,” Mounds wrote.
The governor’s opposition, and stated reason behind it, came as a shock to State Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven. Porter had long advocated for prioritizing licenses for people with “lived experience” of the War on Drugs. Porter said she was floored when Lamont threatened to veto the bill, and was dumbfounded by his explanation.
“You’re saying me — Rep. Porter — I’m the one trying to help rich white guys?” Porter said in a phone call with CT Examiner. “All of a sudden, he’s the champion of equity, and I’m the problem? I was like, am I crazy? That was laughable. Anybody that knows anything about me knows that it is absolutely ludicrous.”
Porter said that the governor had wholly mischaracterized the amendment, calling his treatment of her proposal “insulting, laughable and offensive.” Asked early Wednesday, Lamont’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A close reading of the bill and later amendments suggests that Lamont’s stated argument may not hold up to scrutiny.
In the original bill, supported by the governor, social equity applicants would need an average household income of no more than 300 percent of the state median, and to have lived in a “disproportionately impacted area” for a number of years.
The amendment, which was introduced at Porter’s request, would have added an additional way to qualify for social equity licenses: if either an applicant or their immediate family member had been either arrested for or convicted of marijuana-related crimes.
An initial amendment would have exempted those applicants from the income cap, but the final amendment that passed the Senate contained language that any social equity applicant would need to fall under that same income limit, making Lamont’s justification for a veto untrue, according to Porter.
“The argument is totally false, because the first qualifier says you can make up to 300 percent of the state median, so it’s not opening up the door for any more wealthy people than are already in there,” Porter said.
Still, Lamont’s office vowed a veto, forcing the legislature to approve a final version determining eligibility solely based on geographic location, not a personal history of marijuana-related crimes.
“Why on earth would you not have a problem doing place-based definition, but you would have a problem doing that for people who were directly impacted?” Porter questioned. “Rich white guys who happen to live in a poorer district are already qualified. With the qualifiers as they are now, how many rich white boys in my neighborhood could qualify as a social equity applicant? Why didn’t the governor want people who’d been personally impacted by this to qualify, too?”
Porter said she felt lied to by the Governor’s Office, recounting a conversation with Mohit Agrawal, Lamont’s deputy policy director, that suggested the real reason for the governor’s opposition.
“Mohit said, ‘look, the governor feels like, even though we’re legalizing it now, at the time, they were arrested because it was illegal, and they’re criminals,’” said Porter. “For [the Governor’s Office] to say anything other than that is not true.”
On the day of the vote, Porter said she was called away to a close colleague’s medical emergency. Rep. Corey Paris, D-Stamford, was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and Porter quickly followed.
“He was not in good shape, so I met him over there and stayed with him,” Porter said. “I didn’t get to vote on cannabis or the implementer, but I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that I would regret not being fully present for the people who matter the most to me. It was a big vote to miss, but I knew I needed to be with him.”
Porter said, if given the chance, she genuinely does not know which way she would have voted.