Grow your own? CT cannabis legislation may spark debate
Gov. Ned Lamont’s marijuana-legalization bill does not include a provision for people to grow the plant for themselves.
But even a chief opponent of cannabis legalization, state Rep. Vincent Candelora, says that if the state were to adopt any marijuana legalization, the General Assembly should follow the lead of Vermont, where in 2017 the legislature approved a law allowing only home growing for state residents, and has yet to set up a retail structure.
Advocates for the state’s underground cannabis industry say the prohibition against home growing say it’s a sign that the larger corporate entities, which have expanded as legalization has spread from the West Coast and Colorado to Massachusetts, are trying to protect their future market in Connecticut, if or when full legalization occurs.
Lamont’s office said Friday that the current model that will be submitted to the General Assembly is centered on a regulatory structure that would initially assure state oversight of cannabis cultivation and products.
A leading advocate for full legalization, state Rep. Josh Elliott, said he’s focused on getting an adult-use bill passed, and if home growers are cut out of the equation, it could be an issue to revisit in the future.
Joseph Raymond, of the New England Craft Cannabis Alliance, said that last year’s failed Connecticut legislation, which also ignored home growing, was an example of the corporate cannabis market flexing its lobbying muscle. “Home cultivation hurts their bottom line,” said Raymond, who will support the bill just the same when it is submitted to the law-writing Judiciary Committee.
“Overall the bill is great, but the legislature needs to know that if you approve adult use, you have to allow homegrown,” Raymond said in a phone interview, stressing that the current bill advances the issue by including so-called micro-marketers; targeting investment in cities where the war on drugs was disproportionately waged; and the expunging of criminal records for those convicted of possession.
“So what they would be saying is “We’re wrong, we’re going to erase your criminal record, but we don’t trust you growing six plants in your house,'” Raymond said.
“The governor’s priority is a fully competitive marijuana marketplace for adult use only,” said Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director. “There are questions that remain on home growing, like how to enforce it in a regulated market; what role law enforcement should play; how do we remain in line with our neighboring states? We believe that focusing on getting a fully regulated marketplace up and running should be our priority in the short term.”
“A highly regulated market is critical to public safety by helping to ensure the product is of a certain quality, including staying within designated THC levels, and is not distributed to minors,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “This model has worked well for Connecticut in our highly successful medical marijuana program, which provides a solid foundation for a future adult recreational environment. Allowing homegrown not only puts us outside all of these important safety parameters, it doesn’t have the needed support in the legislature.”
There are more than 38,000 patients registered in the medical cannabis program, which is regulated by the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Friday that it’s too early in the legislative session to determine whether the organization will again push for a home-grower provision. “Last year we testified that home growing should be added, but we also really support getting a bill over the finish line,” she said, noting that a section of Lamont’s proposal would allow for studying the issue, with a report back to lawmakers in 2023, a year after the full legalization bill would take effect.
Last year the Illinois legislature voted to become the 11th state to allow retail sales for adults. The law also allows medical patients to grow five plants, but creates $200 civil penalties for others growing their own cannabis.
“I do not support the legalization of marijuana, however if legalization happens, in my opinion the least-offensive way to do it is to allow for home growing,” said Candelora, R-North Branford. “That eliminates the commercialization of marijuana, along with manipulated levels of THC, vaping, gummies, cookies, sodas and marketing. In the Vermont model, everybody who wants to partake can grow and smoke their own instead of getting into a commercialized market.”
Elliott, D-Hamden, who after the bill failed last year said he wanted to make the issue an amendment to the state Constitution and put before statewide voters in 2022, said he will advocate again for home growing.
“Also, those with medical cards should be allowed to grow it,” Elliott said. “Veterans who come back with PTSD should have it as medicine as well. There is a strong argument that can be made that these people should be allowed to care for themselves and use the plant’s healing properties.”
“You’re allowed to brew beer at home,” said O’Keefe, from the Marijuana Policy Project. “Cannabis is safer.”
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