Proponents of pot legalization in Connecticut are hoping to keep the issue alive by holding public forums to garner feedback. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Pot legalization issue finds advocates scrambling in Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. — Even though two bills legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Connecticut failed this session, proponents are seeking to keep the pot legalization issue alive by holding a public informational meeting on the subject.

Reps. Juan Candelaria and Toni Walker, both Democrats from New Haven, are seeking input on the pros and cons of marijuana legalization from experts and members of the public. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building. It will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I think that the people deserve an opportunity or at least a forum to express their opinions on legalization,” said Candelaria, who also proposed legislation legalizing marijuana for those 21 years and older during the 2015 legislative session.

This session, bills offered by Candelaria and Walker received the support of more than a dozen legislative co-sponsors but were not called for a public hearing before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. Legislative leaders, who’ve been grappling with how to cover large state budget deficits during a short legislative session, said this wasn’t the year to take up such a potentially contentious issue.

Also, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who successfully pushed for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2011 and signed legislation in 2012 legalizing the medical use of marijuana, has been unenthusiastic about going further and fully legalizing pot.

“I don’t believe that’s in our best interest. I think we’ve taken what I consider to be the right steps with marijuana and that is to stop using our laws on marijuana as a first step to lead to a criminal record so we decriminalized marijuana,” Malloy said at a public town hall meeting in February. “I’m not an advocate for legalizing marijuana.”

Candelaria contends the state needs to move beyond those two laws.

“There is a market out there that’s happening. I think we need to regulate it. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact this is out there. People are in put in dangerous situations because they’re dealing directly with a drug dealer,” he said, adding how the state can also generate much-needed revenue.

Proponents estimate Connecticut could reap about $50 million in additional annual taxes through pot legalization. Walker is co-chairman of the legislature’s budget-writing committee and her bill called for the revenue generated from a tax on marijuana be deposited in the state’s main General Fund account, with some money diverted for drug awareness education and efforts to curb opiates, alcohol and other harmful substances.

Colorado Rep. Dan Pabon, one of the state legislators involved in crafting that state’s regulatory framework from recreational marijuana, is among the guest speakers tentatively scheduled to attend Tuesday’s hearing. Invited speakers will appear from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by members of the public. Those who wish to speak will be able to sign up starting at 8:30 a.m. in the first floor atrium of the Legislative Office Building.