A Look at Marijuana Legalization in Connecticut

Last week, on June 17th, 2021, Connecticut became the 18th U.S. state to legalize adult-use Marijuana, including for recreational purposes.  This article will look at the process of legalization in the state and what it means for cannabis vape consumers.

Victory for Legalization Supporters

Connecticut State Capitol

On June 17th, the state legislature finally approved the 300-page marijuana legalization and regulation bill.  Once Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signs the bill, it will become law, taking effect on July 1, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.  The bill, SB 1201, was introduced by House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) and Senate President Martin Looney (D).  The Senate concurred with a House version of the bill by a vote of 16-11, with nine senators absent.  Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) will act as the state regulator of adult-use marijuana.  DCP already manages the state’s medical marijuana program, and now will issue licenses for all aspects of the legal cannabis industry.  The recreational cannabis market, targeted to launch by May 2022, is expected to generate over $700 million in sales within a few years.  In approving the House version, the Senate abandoned an amendment on social equity that the governor had objected to and concurred with a House measure that he supports.  The social equity provisions target communities most affected by the war on drugs, intended to bring more minority business-owners into the state’s legal cannabis market.

Connecticut is the fourth U.S. state this year, following New York, Virginia, and New Mexico, to legalize adult-use of marijuana  through state legislatures.  In a clean sweep of adult-use measures at the November 2020 elections, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved recreational marijuana initiatives.  These victories drive the optimistic view that more and more state legislatures will move to end cannabis prohibition, showing that a majority of Americans prefer legalization and regulation rather than the past system of criminalization.  Among eastern seaboard states, legalization is predicted to come to Maryland later this year, with Delaware and Rhode Island also considering it.  The social equity provisions, while subject to contentious debates between the governor’s office and the legislature, should ultimately be seen as a win for progressives who see cannabis as a path for greater social and economic equality.

What Legalization Means

There will be nine classes of legalized cannabis-related licenses, from retailer to producer, and there is a criminal background check to apply for these licenses (although past minor cannabis conviction are unlikely to be grounds for rejection).  The license application fee ranges from $250 to $1,000, which is comparable to other states, while the final full fee ranges from $1,000 for micro-cultivators, $25,000 for retailers, and $75,000 for large-scale growers.  Connecticut’s social equity provisions is notable as it requires that 50% of applications is reserved for social equity applicants.  Most of the new licenses will be issued by lottery to provide a more equitable opportunity for those who qualify.  Equity applicants could also qualify for technical assistance, workforce training and funding to cover startup costs.  Existing medical marijuana cultivators could apply for an adult-use license as soon as this summer but would be required to pay a $3 million fee or, if they create at least two social-equity joint ventures, a $1.5 million fee.  Prospective recreational cannabis operators would also be required to make a “good-faith effort” to enter into a labor peace agreement with a union before receiving its final license.

Licensed retail stores will start to open in 2022, and the bill specifies that these retailers can only sell up to one ounce of cannabis flower (or the equivalent) per day to a single customer.  The exception is selling for medical purposes to registered patients, who may purchase up to 5 ounces per day.  There is a maximum limit on THC dosage, however, as retailers are allowed to sell cannabis flowers with a total THC concentration of up to 30% on a dry weight basis.  Growing one’s own cannabis plants will also be legal starting July 1, with no license required for home growing, as long as it is limited to three mature plants plus three immature plants (totaling six plants).  Only licensed cannabis farmers/producers will be allowed to possess live cannabis plants for commercial purposes.  Local jurisdictions could prohibit retail sales through zoning laws, but residents could petition for a local referendum to approve adult-use stores.  Municipalities with more than 50,000 residents would need to provide a designated area for public cannabis consumption.  They would be limited to one marijuana retailer and one micro-cultivator per 25,000 residents until July 1, 2024, and those who allow recreational cannabis sales would collect a sales tax of 3%.  Product sales also would be subject to the state sales tax of 6.35%, plus 0.625 cents per milligram of total THC for plant material, 2.75 cents per milligram of total THC for edibles, and 0.9 cents per milligram of total THC for other marijuana products. 

What Individuals Can Expect

cannabis flower

When the law kicks in, adults aged 21 or older can legally possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower on their person.  Adults can also legally possess up to 5 ounces of cannabis flower as long as it is stored in a locked container at their place of residence or, alternatively, in a vehicle’s locked glove box or trunk.  The new law also includes changes in penalties for underage possession, including no arrests for anyone under 18, no discrimination against students who use medical cannabis, no penalization for student athletes for failing a drug test for cannabis, and no financial aid penalty for possession under 4 ounces.  Absent federal restrictions, employers would not be able to take adverse actions against workers merely for testing positive for cannabis metabolites.  Schools will need to re-write their policies by January 2022 to equate cannabis penalties with alcohol.  Most criminal convictions for possession of less than 4 ounces of cannabis would be automatically expunged beginning in 2023.  Beginning July 1, 2022, individuals could petition to have other cannabis convictions erased, such as for possession of marijuana paraphernalia or the sale of small amounts of cannabis.

For concentrates, 7.5 grams of cannabis concentrate (or any other cannabis products with up to 750mg of THC) is the equivalent of the 1.5 ounce limit on personal possession.  25 grams of cannabis concentrate (or any other cannabis products with up to 2,500mg of THC) is the equivalent of the 5-ounce ‘locked container’ allowance.  Note that the THC concentration limit only applies to cannabis flowers and not to concentrates, which can contain upwards of 80% of THC.  Also, a typical package of cannabis edibles contains roughly 100mg of THC.

These details and provisions spell greater public freedom and reduced stigmatization for Connecticut cannabis consumers, including those who use cannabis vaporizers.  We can expect retailers and manufacturers of cannabis-related products, including vaporizers, to pop up in the state starting next year.  The positive impact of this legalization on economic and social justice in Connecticut will hopefully pave the way for more progressive measures on cannabis in the U.S. and the rest of the world. 

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