Legislative session suspended amid COVID-19 concerns; governor designates medical marijuana dispensaries and producers as ‘essential services’

On March 12, legislative leaders ordered the Capitol and Legislative Office Building closed until March 30. On March 23, leaders reassessed the situation and decided to keep the buildings closed until April 13. Legislative leaders and committee chairs continue to prioritize and analyze bills in anticipation of session resuming. The Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana will continue to encourage the legislature to pass legalization and regulation this year.

As Connecticut residents are encouraged to “Stay Safe, Stay Home” amid concerns surrounding the novel coronavirus, Gov. Ned Lamont issued guidance on essential businesses that are encouraged to continue to operate. Among those included in Gov. Lamont’s executive order are medical marijuana dispensaries and producers. In a separate executive order, Gov. Lamont relaxed some regulations to improve patient access to medical cannabis in these extraordinary times. This includes allowing recommendations by telemedicine, extending renewal deadlines, and relaxing some dispensary staffing rules.

Our allies are also urging law enforcement to halt cannabis arrests and release cannabis prisoners in light of COVID-19. Several law enforcement personnel, prisoners, and guards have contracted the novel coronavirus. The more interactions between law enforcement and civilians, and the more incarcerated inmates, the more opportunities for transmission of the virus.

Governor’s bill to end prohibition receives public hearing

On March 2, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on legislation that would end prohibition and regulate marijuana for adult use in Connecticut. 

In February, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D) and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) introduced Governor’s Bill No. 16, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one and a half ounces of cannabis from licensed retailers. A summary of the marijuana regulation bill can be found here.

Prior to the hearing, the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana joined together with veterans, civil rights activists, clergy, law enforcement, healthcare professionals, minority business advocates, economists, social workers, state leaders, and legislators to voice support for action on the governor’s bill and stayed to testify at the public hearing. MPP’s testimony can be found here. The deadline for moving the bill out of committee is March 30, but that is expected to be extended in light of the pause in the legislative session.

During Gov. Ned Lamont’s 2020 State of the State address, he remarked, “We just marked the 100th anniversary of prohibition. How did that work out?” He called for a coordinated regional approach to marijuana regulation to protect public heath and to “right the wrongs of a war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted our minority communities.” His budget includes new staff to prepare for legal sales in 2022. A summary of Gov. Lamont's proposed cannabis regulation bill is available here

Senate Democrats included legalization in their list of 2020 priorities, with Senate President Martin Looney saying, “We know there are very large numbers of Connecticut residents already traveling regularly to Massachusetts to buy this product... I don’t think we want to put our heads in the sand.”

Meanwhile, a recent poll found 65% of Connecticuters support legalization.

Ten states are now regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol, but most of those measures were enacted by ballot initiative, where the public votes on a single proposal. Since Connecticut’s Constitution does not allow for ballot initiatives, we are working to pass a bill to regulate marijuana through the legislature.