I know you have no shortage of difficult decisions to make in the next week as the session winds down — not the least of which is whether taxing and regulating marijuana for adult use is right for Connecticut.
According to a Quinnipiac poll, 63% of registered Connecticut voters support allowing adults to use cannabis. Because we don’t have a ballot initiative process here in Connecticut, however, voters themselves are not able to enact marijuana regulation, as they have done in Massachusetts, Maine, and six other states. Here, the decision rests with you and other members of the Connecticut General Assembly, as voters’ elected representatives.
While we at the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana understand the need for the very significant amount of revenue that regulating marijuana would generate, there aremany other reasons we support regulating marijuana. Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition simply has not worked. Prohibition forces marijuana production and sales underground, where disputes are sometimes solved with violence. By regulating marijuana, the state can control when, where, to whom, and by whom marijuana is sold. It can ensure cannabis is clearly labeled, and free of dangerous pesticides, mold, or other drugs.
As long as growing and selling marijuana is illegal, some individuals will face serious criminal charges for it, tearing apart families and derailing lives. Regulating marijuana, in contrast, would create as many as 19,000 legitimate jobs. In a society that allows a far more toxic and addictive substance — alcohol — we believe adults should be given the freedom to use a much safer alternative.
We wanted to reach out to you directly to clarify some of the questions we've received from your colleagues on the tax and regulate issue, as follows:
Can we protect children from the dangers of consuming marijuana if we tax and regulate?
The best way to prevent young people from using marijuana is through education, smart regulations, and enforcement. Our country has achieved a more than 80% reduction in 10th graders’ rates of cigarette smoking since 1996, not by making it illegal for everyone, but by stepping up enforcement and education. Regulating marijuana will restrict access to youth because licensed marijuana stores could lose their licenses if they don’t check ID. Meanwhile, as of 2012, more than 40% of American teens knew a peer who sold marijuana at school; only 1% knew a peer who sold alcohol. Marijuana regulation would also include safeguards like banning marketing that appeals to minors and requiring childproof packaging.
In June 2016, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that the number of teens using marijuana — and the number with problematic use — is falling as more states legalize or decriminalize cannabis. Also, the most in-depth state surveys suggest no increase in marijuana use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, the four states with before-and-after data after making marijuana legal. We encourage you to review this document, which includes every survey on teen marijuana use rates in states where marijuana is now legal, to see for yourself.
How will legalizing marijuana impact medical patients?
Several patients testified in favor of regulating marijuana in committee hearings. Because of the limited number of patients in Connecticut’s very restrictive medical program, prices for marijuana are quite high, and there are only nine dispensaries. Patients are optimistic that prices will drop due to the economies of scale — when growers produce more cannabis, prices will likely go down, as has happened in adult use states. They also hope they will be able to securely cultivate a handful of plants for themselves, as cultivating a single cannabis plant is still a felony in Connecticut, even for patients.
How will legalizing marijuana impact the existing growers and dispensing pharmacies?
They would be given an opportunity to expand to serve adults, given that they are already abiding by strict licensing requirements. Connecticut’s dispensing pharmacies could follow the approach that many have taken in Colorado, where dispensaries typically have two different counters or rooms in the same building. Some may decide to provide discounts to patients once they are able to generate revenue from adult consumers. Any dispensing pharmacy wishing to serve only patients could continue to do so.
How many jobs would regulating marijuana like alcohol create?
Colorado requires occupational licensing for anyone who works in a licensed marijuana facility, with the most recent data showing 30,391 people licensed to work in the state’s marijuana businesses. Since Connecticut’s population is 66% that of Colorado, if we have the same rate of job creation per capita, we could expect 19,998 people to work directly in the marijuana industry. The economic stimulus of marijuana regulation will also go far beyond direct employment, as those statistics do not include new opportunities created for ancillary businesses such as lawyers, consultants, recruiters, and event planners.
How were the revenues to the state calculated? Is $180 million per year realistic?
The revenues were calculated by multiplying a $50 per ounce tax by the average of low- and high-end estimates of marijuana consumption, which were based on White House-commissioned estimates and a federal survey of consumption patterns.
To arrive at the estimate for standard sales tax revenue, the estimate for marijuana consumption in Connecticut was multiplied by the average cost of marijuana in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, then that was multiplied by 6.35%. Finally, a modest $10 million was added on for a very low-end estimate for revenue from tourists and visitors.
This is actually a very conservative estimate. The sales tax revenue is on the low end because the price of cannabis will likely take some time to drop to the current price in Colorado. Also, the revenue from visitors will likely be far higher than 5.5% of the total.
Won’t the revenue from visitors be negated because Massachusetts has made marijuana legal?
Starting in July 2018, Massachusetts will allow adult use marijuana sales. However, Connecticut is more accessible to residents of many other states, including the most densely populated parts of New York. Rather than driving through Connecticut’s roads to purchase marijuana legally in Massachusetts, the tax revenue of visitors from New York City and further south could come into the state’s coffers.
Isn’t decriminalization enough?
No. Connecticut’s current law has reduced — but not eliminated — the number of people being arrested and branded with criminal records for marijuana. It still stigmatizes adults who prefer cannabis to martinis, and it imposes fines that can be devastating for people struggling to make ends meet.
As long as the production and sale of marijuana remain illegal, prohibition will continue to enrich and empower criminals while undermining public safety and damaging the environment. In addition, only through regulation can Connecticut create thousands of good-paying jobs, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and stimulate other legitimate economic opportunity.
Won’t regulating marijuana make the roads less safe?
No. There has been a great deal of confusion and misrepresentation of data out of Colorado and Washington. In both states, some have reported an uptick of positive tests for THC in drivers involved in fatal crashes. However, in Washington, testing methods changed after legalization, with far more tests being conducted. Also, THC stays in one’s system for many days or potentially weeks after impairment has worn off. The drivers who tested positive were not necessarily at fault or impaired in any way by marijuana.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the number of drunk driving deaths in the United States is now less than half of what it was in 1980. We accomplished this not by banning alcohol for everyone, but through strict enforcement and direct, honest public education campaigns. Popularizing the concept of the “designated driver” has saved countless lives, as have campaigns against “buzzed driving” and free towing programs from groups like AAA. Regulating marijuana like alcohol does not send the message that it’s okay to drive under the influence, but rather allows us to focus limited public resources on dangerous behavior like driving under the influence.
How will legalization impact CDL drivers and other employers who cannot count on the accuracy of testing?
Because marijuana is fat soluble, blood and urine tests for cannabis are extremely overbroad: People can test positive many hours, days, or even weeks after last consuming marijuana. That said, nothing in any proposal would prohibit employers from penalizing drivers for testing positive. Some employers may, however, wish to consider shifting toimpairment-based testing, which would detect safety-sensitive workers who are not only impaired by cannabis, but also any number of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, or even a lack of sleep.
Will making marijuana legal for adults hurt employers?
No. The economy is thriving in Colorado, which became the first state to allow regulated sales of marijuana to adults on January 1, 2014. In both 2015 and 2016, Forbes ranked Denver the best place to do business among the country’s 401 metropolitan statistical areas, noting in 2015 that “Companies are increasingly choosing Denver as the site for new operations or to relocate.”
And, while unemployment has plummeted, workplace injuries are also down. At the end of the first year of legal sales, 2014, lost-cost — lost wages and medical expenses from on-the-job injuries — were stable, and the next two years, they decreased. During the same time, the number of fatal occupational injuries has decreased significantly from 82 in 2012 to 75 in 2015.
Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to read this letter. The Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana stands ready to provide you data and research on any of the issues that continue to cause you concern. Please contact Coalition lobbyists Julie Cammarata or Ray Collins via email, text, or phone. They are at the Capitol each day and can provide you information upon request.