Connecticut's Proposed State Budget Would Legalize And Tax Recreational Marijuana

Connecticut lawmakers are turning to marijuana to fill a few potholes on the road to balancing the Constitution State's budget. Yesterday, Democratic legislators introduced a budget that includes legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana as a means to balance the books amid the state's financial crisis.

Connecticut is projected to run budget deficits of up to $5 billion over the next two years. Legalization won't fix that, but the green could soak up some of the red ink pouring from the state's ledger. Lawmakers supporting the budget estimate that recreational cannabis could reap almost $250 million in tax revenue by the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Activists say the move would also shore up the state's finances by creating new jobs for Connecticuters (yes, that's what they're called). Legalization could also offer new financial ventures for existing businesses.

“The Democrats’ proposal to regulate marijuana for adults would generate significant new tax revenue in addition to creating jobs for residents and business opportunities for other local industries," Sam Tracy -- Director of the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana -- said via press release. "Hundreds of millions of dollars in annual marijuana sales have been taking place in Connecticut each year, and the state has not received a dime in tax revenue. If the Legislature moves forward with this plan, the state could be bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue within just the next two years. This is not the only reason or the best reason to regulate marijuana for adult use, but it is one of several good reasons."

If passed, Connecticut would make history as the first state to legalize marijuana through the budget. But that would be a long shot given the political climate in Connecticut. Despite holding majorities in both chambers of the state's General Assembly, Democrats are unlikely to pass the current version of the budget because there isn't enough support for legalization in their caucus.

"Even though marijuana legalization is included in the proposal, Democratic legislators concede that they do not have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure," according to Christopher Keating and Daniela Altimari of The Hartford Courant

And even if passed, the measure might be vetoed by Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, who criticized Maine and Massachusetts for legalizing recreational marijuana on Election Day 2016. "I think it's a mistake what Massachusetts has done and other states have done,'' Malloy told reporters last December. "I think we should hit the pause button and watch how it works in the region...I don't think [legalization] should be taken up in the current or the oncoming session."

But lawmakers went ahead with the budget measure for the sake of spurring conversation about legalization and prompting legislators to think of unconventional ways to solve the state's budget crisis, according to Keating and Altimari. So even if the budget proposal doesn't go anywhere, the legalization measure will at least push the cannabis conversation forward in Connecticut and the rest of New England.

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