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Connecticut legalizes marijuana, becoming 19th state to regulate adult use

Published on June 17, 2021
Flags with a marijuana leaf wave outside the Connecticut State Capitol building, Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut is scheduled to become the 19th state to legalize the adult use of cannabis, as the state Legislature passed a bill earlier this morning. Gov. Ned Lamont is widely expected to sign it into law as soon as today.

Starting July 1, it’s legal to possess up to 1.5 ounces. Look for retail sales to start in late spring 2022.

Starting July 1, 2021, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces on their person. It will be legal to have up to five ounces secured in a home or vehicle. (That means, specifically, in a vehicle’s trunk or locked glove box, or in a locked container in a person’s residence.)

Retail sales are not expected to begin until until at least May 2022.

Additionally, the new law provides for the automatic erasure of cannabis convictions from Jan. 1, 2000, through Sept. 30, 2015, for possessing less than four ounces of cannabis or any amount of certain other drugs.

“Connecticut’s time has finally come,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport), who steered the bill through the House. “The war on drugs has failed us. The criminalization of cannabis was the wrong course of action for our state and for our nation.”

Concentrate possession limits

It’s worth noting that under the new law, the “1.5 ounce limit” translates into 7.5 grams of cannabis concentrate, or any other cannabis products with up to 750mg of THC. (A typical package of cannabis edibles contains 100mg of THC.) The five ounce limit translates into 25 grams of cannabis concentrate or any other cannabis products with up to 2,500mg of THC.

Other provisions in the new law:

  • Home growing will be allowed starting July 1, limited to three mature plants plus three immature plants, for a total of six plants.
  • Retail cannabis products must contain labels that include THC content.
  • State lawmakers are prohibited from entering the industry for two years after leaving office.
  • Possession of cannabis paraphernalia is not longer prohibited.

Drama in the final hours

The effort to pass the legalization measure in a special session that began on Wednesday was not without some drama.

House members on Wednesday stripped an amendment the Senate previously added to the cannabis legalization bill that ensured that an equity applicant for marijuana industry licenses, who would receive preferential status, could include people living in certain geographic areas who were previously arrested or convicted for the sale, use, manufacture or cultivation of cannabis. The provision also applied to individuals whose parent, spouse or child was arrested or convicted of the same charges. 

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont had threatened to veto the legislation if that provision were included, arguing it would open up the industry and give preference to tens of thousands of people with a history of cannabis crimes, or members of their families, regardless of their financial means.

It was unclear by Lamont considered that a bug, not a feature, of the bill. Legalization is meant to encourage those in the pre-legalized industry to practice their trade in a legal and regulated fashion.

But reporter Mark Pazniokas at the Connecticut Mirror sussed out the problem. The Senate amendment had expanded the definition of a “social equity candidate” to include anyone previously convicted of a marijuana crime, not just those seriously impacted by the War on Drugs.

As Pazniokas wrote:

That change would have given preference for a license to a far broader group than residents of distressed communities: Hypothetically, a wealthy investor with a child caught with a single joint would be eligible for a social equity license, without any connection to a distressed neighborhood.

Democratic House Speaker Matt Ritter put it another way: “Do I think that you should get a leg up because you got pinched [for] marijuana at 19 at Wesleyan? No, I don’t,” he told reporters.

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Strong equity measures included

In the end, legislators fighting for equity measures counted the final bill as a big step forward. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) praised the legalization law’s strong social equity measures.

“We’re able to repair the wrongs of the past and ensure that these communities who have been disproportionately impacted are made whole,’’ Candelaria told the Hartford Courant. “We’re able to repair the wrongs of the past and ensure that these communities who have been disproportionately impacted are made whole.’’

How underage use infractions will be handled

“While stronger language surrounding equity in ownership is needed, it’s very encouraging to see substance use disorder and mental health treatment will have a dedicated fund that will receive 25% of tax revenues,” said Zachary Green, President of the  UConn Hartford Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter, who helped mobilize a rally for legalization in April. “That fund, plus the fact students would no longer be discriminated against through enrollment or penalization due to their cannabis use, is huge progress.”

Some youth-specific highlights of the bill include:

  • No arrests for possession for anyone under 18. 
  • No discrimination against students who use medical cannabis.
  • Schools must re-write their policies by Jan. 2022 to equalize cannabis penalties with alcohol.
  • Student athletes may not be penalized for failing a drug test for cannabis.
  • No financial aid penalty for possession under 4 ounces.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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