HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Early Tuesday morning, Connecticut took an important step towards legalizing recreational marijuana.
The bill passed the state Senate, with one Republican and six Democrats voting against it.
The bill now heads to the House.
“This is one of the most comprehensive cannabis bills. Everybody tends to just focus on legalizing adult use cannabis, but there are a number of provisions here that deal with addressing issues related to youth and how to protect youth, limit the exposure for young people. And a lot of discussions around equity, addressing the question of equity," said Democratic State Rep. Jason Rojas.
Democrats in the House have already said they plan to introduce the bill and vote on it before the session wraps up Wednesday night.
As of Tuesday evening, top House Republicans say the bill is in jeopardy.
"I think it was in jeopardy the day that we didn't have a deal going into our last three days of session," said Rep. Vincent Candelora.
If the bill passes, people would be allowed to buy 1.5 ounces of marijuana or possess up to 5 ounces.
Retailers with licenses could begin selling weed in May of next year and medical patients could begin to grow their own starting in October.
Social equity applicants would be given at least half of the state’s licenses to grow and sell weed.
But, leaders say the bill the Senate approved had a controversial provision that some say would have benefitted one person. That provision, on orders of Governor Ned Lamont, was taken out.
It's no longer there, but Candelora says the mere fact it slipped through is exactly why recreational marijuana needs more debate.
"To me, this seems like this is no longer a legalization bill. It seems to be trending toward like organized crime. The items that are in it, the people who have benefitted, I want to know who, what, why, and where," Candelora said.
The clock is ticking as the session ends on Thursday at 12 a.m.
Speaker of the House, Rep. Matt Ritter, says getting recreational marijuana passed will be as simple as taking the legislature into a special session.
"Because you can prevent a vote at 11 on Wednesday night, but we could call ourselves into a special session and we would just vote on Thursday at 6 a.m.," Ritter said.
Republicans are prepared to filibuster.
"This General Assembly is taking a vote to prevent flavored vape to be marketed in Connecticut because we recognize the impact it's had on our children, yet, at the same time, we're going to legalize marijuana and allow it to be used in gummy bear form," Candelora said.
The bill would also erase some cannabis convictions.
“Now we are going to legalize something the previously had an impact on those communities. We want to ensure we are on the right side of history," Rojas said.
Experts do believe the bill could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and a big chunk of that money, $50 million, will be earmarked to help communities judged to be in targeted areas get accelerated licenses.
Both sides agree this is an important step. The debate is over whether it's in the right or wrong direction.
"I’ve represented clients whose lives were blighted for the rest of their lives by convictions for relatively minor marijuana offenses when they were young," Democratic Senator Martin Looney said.
"For Connecticut’s future, for our children, I urge my colleagues to vote 'no'," Republican Senator Kevin Kelly says.
After the bill passed the Senate, Gov. Ned Lamont weighed in, saying:
“I applaud the Senate’s passage of the bill to legalize the adult use of cannabis. The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety. That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous, unregulated market and support a new growing sector of our economy, which will lead to jobs and growth. This measure is comprehensive, protects our children and the most vulnerable in our communities, and will be viewed as a national model for regulating the adult-use cannabis marketplace. I look forward to the Connecticut House of Representatives securing passage of this measure and sending it my desk.”
Democrats have the majority and say they expect the bill to pass.
The Republican minority leader said it’s not about pot being legal.
“We need to reset the clock on this legislation and look at why a provision was put in to allow an individual to circumvent the process,” said Candelora.
Meanwhile, lawmakers still need to vote on a budget, and time is running out.
“It's always late, I don’t know why it always takes everybody until the bottom of the ninth inning to hit their stride but we're hitting our stride and I’d like to think we're going to have a budget done on time and there's a real chance it has bipartisan support,” Lamont said on Tuesday.
The budget is expected to pass as it has bipartisan support.