'We can get it right': With Connecticut, recreational marijuana use has now been legalized in nearly half of the US

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Connecticut became the 19th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana Tuesday, when Gov. Ned Lamont signed a highly anticipated bill which hopes to address racial inequities stemming from the nation's war on drugs.

“We had a chance to learn from others, and I think we’ve got it right here in the state of Connecticut,” said Lamont, referring to the multiyear effort to finally pass a legalization bill during a ceremony at the state capital.

“Maybe we weren’t the first but we were the first, I think, to show that we can get it right," he said.

People age 21 and older will be allowed to possess and consume marijuana beginning on July 1 under the new law, which also lays the groundwork for a new cannabis industry in the state and attempts to address racial inequities stemming from the nation’s war on drugs.

Connecticut joins 18 other states in fully legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, and joins four other states — New Jersey, New York, Virginia, New Mexico — who legalized the drug this year, reported the Marijuana Policy Project. Just five states have completely outlawed the drug, and federal law has also made it illegal.

The legislation received final approval from both chambers of the General Assembly last week during a special legislative session.

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“I think it will be the most comprehensive and best cannabis legalization bill in the country,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. “History will tell us if that’s true or not, but I feel confident in saying yes, right now, this is the best bill in the country and it’s going to move us in a direction of ensuring that we provide a well-regulated marketplace for adult-use cannabis for adults who want to participate in that kind of activity.”

Connecticut is one of the only states whose law clears marijuana convictions under certain conditions (it will automatically clear records from Jan. 1, 2000 through Sept. 30, 2015).

The Marijuana Policy Project also notes the legislation sets aside 50% of licenses for equity applicants, which include residents of communities that have been “disproportionately impacted” by drug-related crimes and high unemployment. Also, up to 75% of revenue will be dedicated toward equity efforts and community reinvestment, the group said.

Montana, Michigan, New York, Utah, Vermont and Virginia are the only others that automatically clear marijuana convictions with conditions. Arizona will begin expungements next month.

Marijuana offenses made up 545,000 arrests in the nation in 2019, and those arrested are largely Black and Latino Americans, the Drug Policy Alliance reported.

Connecticut's legislation received strong opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. But polls indicate that support for marijuana legalization around the country may be greater for it.

American support for legalization is the highest it's been than at any point in the past five decades, Gallup reported in a 2020 poll. When the survey organization first measured legalization support in 1969, it was only at 12% — by 2000 it had grown to 34% and is now twice that. Around 90% support allowing medical marijuana, according to a 2019 Quinnipac poll, which has been legalized in thirty six states, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

And as public support shifts, so do states.

Just a few hours after the Connecticut governor signed the bill, the Rhode Island Senate approved legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. The bill now goes to the House.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Connecticut legalizes recreational marijuana; weed legal in 19 states

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