Debate continues on legalizing recreational marijuana in CT - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Debate continues on legalizing recreational marijuana in CT

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A bill to make recreational marijuana legal in Connecticut will be discussed by lawmakers on Wednesday.

The General Assembly's Judiciary Committee is scheduled to start listening to arguments at 10 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Supporters argue that legalized pot will bring in tax revenue and reduce a black market.

Opponents such as AAA and law enforcement, however, said they believe it would lead to an increase in impaired driving and deadly crashes.

AAA said lawmakers are considering a blood-alcohol-like limit for marijuana, similar to the one used when police pull over drunk drivers. Unlike alcohol, AAA said there is no way to measure how impaired a driver actually is.

"It's understandable that lawmakers would want to address traffic safety concerns by setting a legal limit for marijuana as we have for alcohol," said Amy Parmenter, AAA spokesperson. "Unfortunately, it just can't be done. "This is just one of the many complexities that make the legalization of recreational marijuana a concern for law enforcement and traffic safety advocates across the state."

AAA was among those expected to testify at Wednesday's hearing. 

"Our state's current marijuana prohibition policy is causing far more harm than good for our communities," CCRM Director Sam Tracy said in a statement on Tuesday. "Connecticut voters overwhelmingly support regulating marijuana. This is a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. It should be produced and sold by licensed businesses, similarly to alcohol, rather than criminals in the underground market."

The Connecticut Coalition testified about regulating marijuana.

"An idea we feel whose time has come and 63 percent of Connecticut voters agree," Tracy said. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Martin Looney, a Democrat, would allow adults 21 years old and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana or purchase it from licensed establishments.

Marijuana would be taxed by a total rate of 30 percent.

The Liquor Control Commission would become the Liquor and Marijuana Control Commission, under the bill. It would be responsible for regulating retailers, cultivators, producers and testing laboratories.

"This assembly has a choice to make not only over legalization, but a choice to make a success of the system they choose to reform," John Hudak with Brookings Institution said.

Legalizing marijuana comes with the concern for addiction and the message it sends to young people and those who will smoke and drive.

"Right now with alcohol it's an easy scientific test," Berlin Police Chief Paul Fitzgerald, who is with the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said. "We don't have that for marijuana."

In Colorado where it's legal to smoke and grow marijuana, lawmakers said it has not wiped out the black market and many are selling it illegally in other states.

"We are watching Colorado closely and every legislator has concerns on the effect on our state,” state Rep. William Tong (D-Stamford) said.

Lawmakers say the revenue is tempting, but concerns may be stronger.

"There is a concern for the revenue side of it, but I like a lot of people think this is the wrong reason to do this,” Tong said. 

Towns would be able to prohibit retailers or adopt rules to govern them.

Connecticut lawmakers have had two public hearings on recreational marijuana turning out to be just as controversial as last year. While some lawmakers consider themselves open-minded, they also worry it will create problems. 

Eyewitness News conducted a Facebook poll about the bill. Weigh in here.

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