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Connecticut Legalization Adds To Momentum In The Northeast

June 22, 2021

Connecticut’s state legislature last week voted to legalize recreational cannabis, adding another state in a region that has been swept by reform in recent months. The bill passed the state senate Thursday by a vote of 16-11, with nine senators absent; governor Ned Lamont, whose administration was heavily involved in brokering the final deal that secured the bill’s passage, applauded the move and indicated his intention to sign. That signature is expected later today, based on comments to reporters yesterday.

“The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets. By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states,” Lamont said in a statement. “I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”

The new law goes into effect July 1, at which time it will be legal for adults to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis. As has become fairly standard for this second wave of legalization, sales are expected to begin in about a year—May 2022 in this case. Many of the provisions are also expected at this point, with a portion of tax revenues allocated for reinvestment in communities hurt by the war on drugs and most possession convictions slated for automatic expungement. Notably, existing medical dispensaries will be allowed to convert into “hybrid retailers” after the application process begins in September. Connecticut’s department of consumer protection will issue licenses to growers, retailers, manufacturers, and delivery services, with social equity applicants entitled to half of the licenses issued.

Connecticut follows New Jersey and New York, which also both enacted legalization laws earlier this year, along with Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, where cannabis was already legal. While it is a smaller state, Connecticut adds to the growing bloc of adult-use states in the Northeast. In New England, only Rhode Island and New Hampshire have yet to legalize, and both are now entirely boxed in by states that have done so, adding intense pressure for a variety of reasons—not least of which is the tax revenue they stand to lose from their residents seeking cannabis in another state.

Of course, legal sales are not yet taking place in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, or Vermont, which has tiptoed toward regulated sales since possession became legal in 2018. In a year, give or take, the state of the industry may well look very different as all these markets get off the ground and Pennsylvania moves in that direction as well. Soon the Northeast may constitute a region on par with the West, where, thanks to recent legalization successes in Arizona and New Mexico, legal cannabis forms an unbroken wall from the Canadian border to Texas.—Danny Sullivan

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