Connecticut Bill would Legalize Marijuana for Recreational Use, Thwart Federal Prohibition in Practice

HARTFORD, Conn. (Mar. 8, 2015) – A bill introduced in the Connecticut House would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Passage would not only legalize marijuana in the state, but would also take a big step toward blocking federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.

Rep. Toni Walker (D-93) introduced House Bill 5236 (HB5236) on Feb. 16 along with nine co-sponsors. If enacted, the legislation would do the following:

"(1) Permit the retail sale of marijuana; (2) provide that revenue generated from taxation on such sale go to the General Fund, except that some shall go to (A) drug awareness education and efforts to curb abuse of opiates, alcohol and other harmful substances, (B) ensure the marijuana is tested for illicit substances and potency, and (C) study the impact of marijuana legalization and consumption; (3) require the Department of Consumer Protection to provide oversight and regulations, unless there is a specific provision for another agency to adopt certain regulations; (4) require all marijuana of a certain potency be labeled as such and that such marijuana be packaged in a child-safe manner; (5) provide that medical marijuana dispensaries have initial access to recreational licensing; (6) require roadside testing for impaired drivers and that driving under the influence laws apply when marijuana has been consumed in the previous two hours; (7) provide for separate statutory schemes for medical and recreational use of marijuana; (8) ensure current legal status concerning growth for personal use; (9) ensure that medical marijuana not be subject to a retail sales tax; (10) require that consumers transport marijuana in a sealed container; and (11) ban public consumption of marijuana."

If HB5236 is successful, Connecticut would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

Passage of HB5236 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation or use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While the Connecticut bill would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward blocking in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By erasing the state laws, the Connecticut legislature would essentially sweep away the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

If the state legislature passes HB5236, Connecticut would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically thwarting the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

NEXT UP

HB5236 must pass the Joint Judiciary Committee before it can receive a full vote in the House.