HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Connecticut’s recreational marijuana bill passed through the Senate late Thursday morning.
The legislation passed in the House of Representatives Wednesday night and moved on to the Senate. They voted just before noon, passing the bill 16 to 11, with 9 votes not cast.
The bill now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont's desk to be signed.
“The lesson is the public is far ahead of where elected officials are on this issue, and most of the states that have struggled to do this as we have are states that have voted it into law and states that did it more easily were through ballot initiatives where the public will was immediately reflected," said Senate President Martin Looney.
The bill, which would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, was the culmination of years of debate.
A recreational marijuana bill took a major step toward becoming law, but the governor threatened to veto it over an eleventh-hour amendment.
In recent days, there was controversy over an equity amendment that was added.
After the amendment was removed, the bill passed 76-62 in the House.
Thursday morning, the nearly 300-page bill was one step closer to becoming law in Connecticut when it passed the Senate.
Lawmakers have never gotten it this far.
Earlier this week, Gov. Ned Lamont threatened to veto the bill over the last-minute amendment that was added in the Senate.
The amendment would have allowed anyone with a marijuana conviction to get an equity license to grow and sell pot, no matter where they live.
Lamont said it would give preference to tens of thousands of people with a history of cannabis crimes, regardless of their financial means.
“These are the folks in communities that have been hard hit, many of them victimized by people selling them drugs, those are the folks we ought to prioritize and help them get on their feet,” Lamont said.
That amendment was taken out on Wednesday.
However, many Republicans still raised concerns about what the bill means for Connecticut.
“We will regret this decision for years to come, similar to what we are seeing in Colorado where they are trying to put that genie back in the bottle,” said Rep. Vinnie Candelora, the Republican minority leader. “Connecticut will go in that same direction.”
Gov. Lamont said he will sign the bill.
“For the Senate, three times is a charm. The real emphasis is on equity and public health, whatever we do, we do it safely," Lamont said.
Sales of marijuana will generate tax revenue, $10 million to start and up to $75 million in five years, but equity is a big part of the legislation, giving licenses to those in distressed communities.
Democratic State Senator Gary Winfield has championed this legislation, which he says will hopefully undo historic damage criminalization has done to those of color.
“The question that was asked of me in the chamber about the fact we did this on the 50th anniversary of the war on drugs. I think it’s highly appropriate actually, given that at least for us here in Connecticut, much of the conversation has been about those communities that have been disproportionately impacted,” Winfield said.
Republicans, most who have voted against recreational marijuana, feel this is the wrong policy for any state.
“On one hand we are saying smoking is not good, flavored vapes and tobacco are not good for kids, yet we are selling a product that’s sold in brownies and gummy bears," said Republican State Senator Kevin Kelly.
Starting July 1, pot will be legal for adult use, those 21 and older, and sales are expected to start a year from this fall.
Connecticut would become the 19th state to legalize recreational pot, and the 4th state to do it this year alone.
Gov. Lamont released a statement on the Senate passing the bill Thursday, saying "It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war. 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 and other stakeholders 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 create jobs. The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets. By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states. Connecticut residents will benefit from the portion of cannabis revenues that will be dedicated to prevention and recovery services. 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 signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”