Connecticut lawmakers voted to advance three bills that would legalize the retail sale and possession of recreational marijuana Monday.
In a close vote, the Judiciary Committee approved a bill 21-19 that outlines the process for legalization and would allow people previously convicted of marijuana possession to petition the courts to have their records erased.
State Senator Alexandra Bergstein was one of three Democrats who voted against the bill.
“I am in favor of decriminalizing and erasing records for possession, but I’m not in favor of legalizing,” said Bergstein, “because I do think that the public health and public safety consequences - the costs - greatly exceed the benefit.”
But state Senator Dennis Bradley told the committee the state needs to invest in public education and be honest about how pot is already used.
“Marijuana is in every single community - white, black, brown,” said Bradley. “I was just Googling here, 42 percent of people who got admitted into Ivy League institutions admitted to smoking marijuana or trying marijuana. It’s already in our communities. It’s in every single level of our community. It’s with affluent people. It’s with people who are impoverished. We have to be real about where we’re living today.”
Many Republicans and Democrats were in favor of decriminalizing and erasing records for possession. But several committee members talked about the impact legalization would have on young people in the state, saying legalizing is normalizing it and sends a bad message.
Driving while impaired, the impact on brain development, and the fear that the marijuana industry will be dominated by large corporations were just some of the issues brought up prior to Monday’s vote.
The committee also voted in favor of two other related bills. One would give employers the right to mandate that cannabis couldn’t be used in the workplace, the other would provide funding to train law enforcement to recognize when drivers are under the influence of marijuana.
The measures will likely result in a single legalization bill.
Three New England states have legalized recreational marijuana so far - Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.