On June 22, Gov. Ned Lamont signed Senate Bill 1201, “An Act Concerning Responsible and Equitable Regulation of Adult-Use Cannabis,” adding Connecticut to the growing list of states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana and consumable cannabis products.
As the bill goes into effect today, July 1, what do Wilton residents need to know? In Part I of our two-part series, GOOD Morning Wilton will explain what’s in the new law, including what it means for local control and local taxes. Part II will explore how Wilton’s town officials and law enforcement are approaching it.
About CT’s Law
In a statement he made upon signing the bill, Gov. Lamont called the legislation “a comprehensive framework” for regulating the cannabis market that will “help eliminate the dangerous, unregulated market and support a new and equitable sector of our economy that will create jobs.”
Lamont said a competitive angle factored into his decision to sign the bill.
“The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets … we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive.”
The new law essentially legalizes the possession and recreational use of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older, with some restrictions.
An individual may have no more than 1.5 ounces of cannabis on their person, and no more than 5 ounces in a locked container in their home or vehicle.
A state license will be required for retail sales and commercial growing operations for any products that contain delta-8-THC, delta-9-THC, or delta-10-THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis that gives users the high.
In addition to using cannabis, individuals will — eventually — be able to legally grow their own. That will begin with patients enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, who may grow up to six cannabis plants beginning Oct. 1, 2021. All adults will be permitted to grow that same number of plants beginning July 1, 2023. Multiple-adult households will be capped at 12 cannabis plants. All home-grown plants must be indoors and secured from access by minors.
“Equitable” Is a Key Word
Lamont said the new law would “start the necessary work of repairing the damage caused by decades of failed cannabis criminalization policies” which disproportionately impacted urban and minority groups over many years of the so-called war on drugs.
Under the new law, some cannabis-related convictions from 2000-2015 will be automatically erased. Others could be erased in a petition process.
Beyond just removing criminal histories, the new law will benefit the very communities that were hurt by earlier cannabis policies, requiring that at least half of all initial licenses are reserved for social equity applicants.
Social equity applicants must meet specific requirements for income and residency history in impacted areas. The Social Equity Council created by the new law will offer programs and support for social equity applicants in the cannabis market.
The law goes even further in social equity aims, with economic development initiatives beyond the cannabis market. Some of the state tax revenue from retail sales of cannabis will be used to fund the Social Equity and Innovation Fund, which will “provide business capital, technical assistance for business start-ups and operations, workforce education, and community investments” in targeted communities, according to Lamont’s statement.
Is Pot Another “Local Control” Issue?
Yes, and this time, the law favors local control — something Lamont emphasized.
“Local officials will play an important role in the implementation of cannabis legalization. For example, local officials can control the number and locations of cannabis retailers through zoning.”
Wilton could enact local zoning ordinances that would prohibit cannabis businesses or retail stores from opening in the town. Wilton could also set restrictions on where those businesses could be located, or how close they could be to schools, for example.
In addition to or in lieu of any proactive steps the town’s zoning authority would choose to take, Wilton residents could force a voter referendum on whether or not to allow sales within the town, if 10% of Wilton voters sign a petition.
One aspect of local control that isn’t totally clear is where cannabis use will be permitted outside of private residences. Edibles would seemingly be harder to control than smoked or vaped cannabis.
Although Lamont’s statement indicated that municipalities can determine where smoked or vaped cannabis can be used, its use is explicitly prohibited at state parks, state beaches, and on state waters. As with tobacco cigarettes, cannabis use would also be prohibited at places like schools, restaurants, and shops.
The Lure of Tax Revenue
Retail sales aren’t expected to begin in Connecticut for at least one more year. But when and if retail stores open in Wilton, they would levy some hefty taxes.
Cannabis sold in Wilton would be subject to a 3% municipal sales tax, a new revenue stream for the town.
The municipal tax would be in addition to the 6.35% state tax. A third tax would vary based on the THC content of the product (2.75 cents per milligram of THC for cannabis edibles; 0.625 cents per milligram of THC for cannabis flower; 0.9 cents per milligram of THC for all other product types).
By comparison, Lamont said Connecticut’s cannabis taxes would be lower than those in New York and about the same as in Massachusetts.
Emphasis on Enforcement
Unlike some previous proposals, the new legislation puts more emphasis on enforcement and preventing bad behavior — namely, illegal use by minors and impaired driving.
“This legislation directs significant new funding to prevention and recovery services, which will be used to help prevent cannabis use by minors and to promote safe, healthy use of cannabis by those of legal age,” Lamont said in his statement.
When it comes to the 21-and-over rule, the approach will be similar to that for alcohol. Selling or providing cannabis to someone underage will be a Class A misdemeanor. Using fake identification to buy it would be a Class D misdemeanor. Store owners could even be charged for underage people “loitering” in their stores.
“Training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving” was also cited by Lamont as a hallmark of the new law.
Across the state, more police officers would be trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and certified as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE), which could result in more license suspensions for drivers who are impaired on any substance, including cannabis. According to the CT Department of Transportation, there are currently only about 60 DREs in Connecticut.
PART 2: What Do Wilton’s Town Officials Say?
Look for GOOD Morning Wilton‘s continuing coverage of this important topic next week.