Recreational pot could become a reality in Connecticut. It was one of a handful of bills in front of state lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday.
Proponents said they feel pot is simply safer than alcohol. Critics, however, said the two are not comparable and that the state stands to lose far more than it would gain by making marijuana legal.
Still, the state has left the door open on the idea for quite a while. It decriminalized small amounts of pot and allowed marijuana to treat certain medical conditions.
Eight states, including neighboring Massachusetts, have legalized recreational marijuana. It remains against federal law, which for the most part has gone unenforced. However, the White House has said it may change that in the future.
In Connecticut, the bill would legalize and tax recreational marijuana. It could bring in at least $45 million per year.
Researchers said money is at stake.
Those at the research firm Arcview said marijuana sales topped $6 billion last year, up from 30 percent from the previous year.
People in favor of legalizing it said it would be tightly regulated and for adults only. They said they feel it's a boost for business and would gut the underground pot sale market.
According to experts from a drug summit last year, there is no way to set a clear threshold for the amount of marijuana in someone's system, as opposed to the measure of alcohol used for impaired drivers, the blood-alcohol content.
The auto club AAA pointed out that if recreational pot is legalized, more impaired drivers will be on the roads, which would make driving more dangerous for everyone.
There are plenty of people who feel pot should not be legalized for recreational use.
"We have 16 partners across the state that have joined this coalition in being concerned with what can happen with legalizing recreational marijuana,” said Carlos Reynoso, of Stop Pot Connecticut, which has teamed up with AAA and police officers across the state.
"Naturally driving while impaired is going to be up - you are going to get more domestics,” said Wolcott Police Chief Edward Stephens.
But unlike drunk driving, there is no standardized test for buzzed driving, and very few police officers who are trained on how to see if a driver is drug-impaired.
Danielle Ott is a high school senior who is trying to stop lawmakers from legalizing recreational marijuana.
"This term ‘recreational marijuana’ is usually associated with fun and playing and things kids want to do, whereas this is not what we want to be telling them,” Ott said.
She researched a number of studies, which she says show marijuana with consistent use can damage a young person's IQ.
Lawmakers are hearing testimony from both sides.
State Rep. Michelle Cook said she is keeping an open mind.
"Generationally we were raised to believe this is not good. And what are the health impacts, do we believe everything that has been reported or do we think these things have changed, and we have such a crisis here with opioids and addiction,” Cook said.
Supporters says a recent survey found more than 60 percent of people in Connecticut favor legalization.
The Public Health Committee will have to vote on this in order for the bill to go forward.
Weigh in on the issue by voting in our poll here.
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