Amid a projected annual budget deficit of more than $2 billion, top Connecticut House and Senate lawmakers are urging that the state legalize marijuana to help fill some of the gap.
Legislative leaders in both chambers released a budget proposal on Tuesday that includes legal cannabis tax revenue as a partial solution to the state’s fiscal problems. (See embedded document below.)
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a Democrat, introduced one of four standalone marijuana legalization bills considered by the legislature earlier this year. Two committees held hearings on the issue but none of the bills were brought to a vote.
Now, the idea of ending prohibition and taxing cannabis is gaining new traction as the scheduled end of the legislative session approaches on June 7 and lawmakers work to craft a budget.
In a press release the Democratic legislative leaders said that their budget plan “legalizes the retail sale of marijuana—in keeping with our neighboring states—complying with the wishes of more than 60 percent of our residents, resulting in a yearly revenue gain of nearly $200 million as well as significant economic activity in our state.”
Democrats and Republicans each hold 18 seats in the Senate, but the Democrats effectively hold a majority with the support of Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. The party has an outright, if narrow, majority in the House.
The Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated earlier this year that legalizing and taxing marijuana could eventually generate nearly $105 million in annual state tax revenues, with another potential $9 million in local taxes.
Lawmakers, in the budget proposal released on Tuesday, project that their legalization plan will bring in $60 million in revenue for the next fiscal year, and $180 million by 2019.
“The dollar amounts that are associated with legalization of marijuana are real,” Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat, said last week.
The lawmakers’ proposal also estimates some costs associated with implementing legalization: $937,975 in Fiscal Year 2018 and $3,274,739 in the following year.
But while Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, signed marijuana decriminalization and medical cannabis bills into law in previous sessions, he is not supportive of full-scale legalization, calling it “a mistake.”
The governor does seem to recognize that legalization is an issue coming to greater prominence in the region, however.
After Massachusetts and Maine approved their legalization ballot measures, Malloy acknowledged that “when multiple states move in a direction you have to re-examine your own personal thoughts on the issue… I do have to re-examine that position in light of our very large shared border.”
Last week, Vermont lawmakers sent a noncommercial legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R), and a Delaware House committee approved a bill to tax and regulate marijuana. Rhode Island is also considering legalization legislation this session. And leading candidates in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election this year have endorsed ending prohibition.
A 2015 Quinnipiac University poll found that 63 percent of Connecticut voters support legalizing marijuana.
The governor did not include marijuana legalization in his budget plan released on Monday, though it is unclear if he would veto a spending plan just because it includes legalization.
See below for the Connecticut House and Senate leaders’ budget proposal: