HARTFORD, Conn. (June 17, 2021) – Today, the Connecticut Senate gave final approval to a bill that would legalize marijuana for adults over 21 in the state despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Martin Looney (D) introduced Senate Bill 1201 (SB1201) on June 14 for the legislature’s special session. Rep. Matthew Ritter (D) cosponsored the bill in the House. Under the proposed law, adults 21 and older could possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana beginning on July 1. The legislation also creates a licensing and regulatory structure for commercial production and retail sales of cannabis. Retail sales would launch in May 2022. Home cultivation would be permitted under the law, first for medical marijuana patients and later for adult-use consumers.
The legislation also includes provisions to automatically expunge convictions for possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana, along with a petition process to expunge other marijuana-related “crimes” such as possession of marijuana paraphernalia and the sale of small amounts of cannabis.
The House passed the final version of SB1201 by a 76-62 vote. The Senate approved the measure 16-11. It now goes to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for his consideration. Lamont’s office helped finalize the proposed law and he’s expected to sign the bill.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., under federal law, it remains illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Connecticut legalized medical marijuana in 2012 and removed one layer of laws punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition remains in effect. Legalizing marijuana for adult use would take another major step and would effectively end state marijuana prohibition. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Connecticut could become the 18th state to legalize adult-use marijuana.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico and Virginia legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 17 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.
The passage of SB1201 highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
Gov. Lamont will have 15 days to sign or veto SB1201. If he takes no action, it will become law without his signature.