Connecticut legal weed vote could come as soon as next week as lawmakers reflect on just-completed 2021 legislative session

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

While the state legislature still intends to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana and other issues as soon as next week, top officials say the 2021 legislative session was highly successful.

Lawmakers approved multiple controversial issues that had been sharply debated for years, including legalizing sports betting and online gambling, removing the religious exemption for childhood vaccines, reducing solitary confinement in prisons, allowing free telephone calls for inmates, and increasing the deposit on recycled bottles and cans for the first time in 40 years.

Although the legislature did not tackle the controversial issue of electronic highway tolls, Lamont successfully pushed for generating money for major transportation infrastructure repairs by creating a highway usage tax on large tractor trailers that was sharply opposed by the trucking industry.

As tired negotiators rested Thursday after a blistering, late-night pace recently, negotiations are scheduled to start Friday on the comprehensive “implementer” bill that outlines the nuts-and-bolts details of the two-year, $46.3 billion budget.

One possibility, lawmakers said, is that attorneys could insert the 300-page marijuana measure into the implementer for one gigantic bill.

But Republicans say that idea is a nonstarter.

“It certainly assures there won’t be any Republican support for the legislation if it’s tied into the implementer‚” said House Republican leader Vincent Candelora, an outspoken opponent of marijuana legalization.

He is also concerned about the potential impact on the state’s successful medical marijuana industry.

“Some of the very high fees that are put into that bill will probably eliminate our medical industry,” Candelora said. “Essentially, we have four current growers in the state of Connecticut. Connecticut’s medical industry was really the beacon of medical marijuana programs in the entire United States. This legislation creates a bar to entry for them because it’s setting their fees at $3 million in order to be able to get into the commercial market or $1 million for dispensaries.”

But Lamont said he does not have particularly strong views on whether marijuana would be combined into an omnibus bill — other than that legislators must vote on legalization.

“Pass the bill. Let’s go,’' Lamont said Thursday when asked by The Courant. “We got you the most comprehensive bill in the country.’'

Lamont said that he has not seen the language of the budget implementation bill, adding that drafts have been circulating among staff members.

He said, however, that he would not mind if the legislature decides to vote on the transportation climate initiative, known as TCI, that never received a vote during the regular session. Republicans have repeatedly blasted the climate bill, saying that it would raise gasoline prices by at least 17 cents per gallon because petroleum wholesalers would be charged under the plan and would be expected to pass those costs along at the pump. Democrats countered that the regional proposal would raise gasoline prices by five cents per gallon in 2023.

House Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford said no final decisions had been made as of mid-Thursday, but the special session could be held next week — depending on which days would guarantee the highest attendance. The marijuana measure could be included in the omnibus bill because “it implements the budget because there is revenue associated with it‚” he said.

Under the special session rules, the legislature would have the right to discuss the controversial TCI initiative, but final decisions have not been made. A student of House history, Ritter was reluctant to “call the question” and end the marijuana debate when Republicans said they would filibuster the measure until the regular session ended.

“I don’t think folks truly understand that special sessions are just another legislative session — anything can happen,’' Ritter told The Courant. “In the future, when this happens again, I hope that all sides have learned a lesson. I’m not using that as a threat. In the future, if someone is offered 18 hours of debate time, hopefully they will accept it. It behooves everybody to try to work these things out in the regular session process.”

Ritter said he would not open the special session to a huge variety of topics, but added, “theoretically, we can do anything we wanted.’'

Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford said if the transportation climate initiative’s gasoline price increases are placed in the implementer bill, then that “would be a double-cross.”

Kelly has repeatedly blasted the initiative, and opponents have held rallies around the state in a grassroots effort that was similar to the moves that blocked electronic highway tolls. He noted that liberal Democrats had sought to increase the capital gains tax by more than 25% and create a new consumption tax on the rich that Republicans said was simply an increase in the personal income tax.

“But Republicans stood tall on no new taxes,” Kelly said Thursday. “The eventual shift away from taxes is without a doubt a win for every Connecticut working and middle-class family. Democrats should continue listening to the people and not put any new taxes in the implementer bill.”

The state’s nonprofits are lobbying to insert money into the implementer bill.

“The budget does not appear to include any increase whatsoever for Medicaid-funded mental health and substance abuse treatment programs,” said Gian Carl Casa, chief executive officer of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance. “It is vitally important that legislative leadership and the governor address this inequity in legislation that will implement the budget.”

He added, “The pandemic has heightened trauma and exacerbated mental health issues, and the opioid epidemic continues to take lives. This is the worst time to leave programs that treat substance abuse out of an historic funding increase that has been given to so many other community nonprofits.”

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting