With the stroke of a pen last week, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont finally achieved a goal that activists have pursued for years: the legalization of cannabis nationwide. The newly signed bill allows adults to carry up to an ounce and a half and keep up to five ounces at home or in the trunk or glove compartment of their car.
Proponents of cannabis equity are happy with the final legislation, but the road to get there has been bumpy. And while the Connecticut legalization pass is a significant victory, there is still a long way to go to ensure that the state creates a fair industry.
Industry lobbyists, closely involved in the state’s legislative process, spoke to the Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary about the bill’s winding road to law and the debate between lawmakers and Lamont over the definition of justice.
How we got here
Although Connecticut passed decriminalization in 2011 and launched a medical program in 2012, efforts to legalize adults had stalled in recent years. In 2018, a law to legalize a vote in the House of Representatives was passed, but it was not pushed forward. The next year there was another legalization bill and even more debate, but the legislature ultimately failed to garner enough votes – despite the support of then-re-incumbent Governor Lamont.
In 2020, Lamont proposed a legalization framework that received legal support until the coronavirus pandemic forced the session to an early end. This year, after tri-state neighbor New York passed legalization in March and the effects of COVID-19 were mitigated with the introduction of vaccines, cannabis advocates were confident they would finally make it across the finish line.
It wouldn’t be easy. After time ran out in the regular session due to a lack of Republican support in the House of Representatives, lawmakers had to return to a special session on June 16. But a late change the Senate added during the special session jeopardized all efforts after Lamont threatened to veto cannabis licensing prioritization, sparking a debate over who should be prioritized in the adult use market.
Who should be considered an equity applicant?
Jason Ortiz, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and longtime cannabis advocate in Connecticut, said the veto threat came after a disagreement over qualifications for stock licensing. “We fought to include those with criminal backgrounds and the governor refused to include them in the program. He really didn’t get the point of stock programs, ”Ortiz said in an email to the Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “It got especially twisted when he tried to say that including those with a criminal history would benefit the rich.”
Lamont’s office released a statement against the change, which would have given priority to applicants convicted of cannabis crime: “This last-minute change creates name equality by giving these people faster market access.” The statement went further and alleged , The new change would allow “almost anyone with a history of cannabis crime” to be prioritized as an applicant, even if they come from a wealthy background.
Despite the governor’s disapproval, it is a common practice to prioritize access to the industry for those with cannabis convictions. Illinois, Michigan, New York, and California are just a few of the states that have cannabis detention as part of the equity applicant qualification criteria.
After some debate and rejections from share supporters, the change was eventually put on hold. The updated legalization law was passed and put into effect by both houses of the legislature. Adult pharmacy sales are not expected to start until the end of 2022 at the earliest, but the new ownership restrictions will come into effect on July 1.
What happens next for cannabis stocks in Connecticut?
Nobody knows for sure. While Lamont reiterates the importance of social justice action in the emerging industry, exact details are not yet available on how exactly this will be done. We know that 50% of all licenses are reserved for social justice applicants who are also eligible for special scholarships and training. Under the law, a new 15-member Social Justice Council will develop guidelines on how those harmed by the cannabis ban should be prioritized in the state’s legal industry.
And although activists viewed the lifting of the special session’s amendment as a setback, they were generally satisfied with the end result.
“We had a list of seven key components that we wanted,” said Ortiz. “Budget for all, shutdown of stock licenses, tribal nation inclusion, protection for students and parents, labor peace agreements, funds for community investment, employment programs for ex-prisoners. We all have seven. So in this respect it is a complete success. “
Whatever comes next, it is likely that stock attorneys will get heavily involved – as they did in the lead up to legalization.
“Justice advocates – not just cannabis advocates, but larger organizations like the NAACP in Connecticut – were very involved in our demands for legalization, so it had to be fair,” said Shanita Penny, an advisor on the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation (CPEAR) and member of their internal think tank Center of Excellence. “At no point were we prepared to accept legalization in any way – it had to repair and repair the damage caused by the war on drugs.”
Connecticut, a state of approximately 3.6 million people and a population of nearly 80% Caucasian, will face the dual challenge of rapidly scaling its industries while prioritizing those harmed by the ban. Currently, its medical program only supports four licensed cannabis breeders. Nevada, a state with roughly 500,000 fewer residents, has over 130 licensed breeders in its adult industry.
At the moment, attention is focused on the formation of the new Social Justice Council and the State Ministry of Consumer Protection, which will be responsible for issuing licenses.
“We must insist that those appointed to the Social Justice Commission are knowledgeable and also focus on empowering the hardest-hit communities,” Ortiz said. “We won a battle, but the war is far from over.”