Clock Ticking on Cannabis Legalization

House chamber clock Photo credit: Hugh McQuaid (courtesy of CTNewsJunkie.com)

Supporters have not given up hope, and House Democrats met again Saturday and briefly discussed the bill during a caucus some lawmakers described as productive.

By Hugh McQuaid, CTNewsJunkie.com 

With effectively three days left in the session and budget debates pending in both chambers, the top Republican in the House said Saturday that proponents of legalizing recreational cannabis had run out the clock.

“Effectively, I think they’re out of time,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said outside the House chamber. “That kind of a bill is going to get a full day of debate in each chamber… Logistically, I don’t think it’s even possible to take up the bill, even if they wanted to.”

Candelora’s comments came as details of a bill were expected to become available after months of negotiations between Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and legislative Democrats. Several progressive lawmakers objected to a legalization proposal from the governor, saying it failed to ensure communities damaged by the war on drugs had a fair stake in the proposed new cannabis industry.

Over the last few months, the two sides have attempted to reconcile their differences and late this week arrived at a tentative deal. On Saturday, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas told reporters that House Democrats had been briefed on the deal during a meeting Friday, which he said “went really well.”

“We already understood many of the concerns that we heard yesterday but they were reaffirmed for us and I think we were able to make a couple of more adjustments that reflect, I think, the preferences of as many of the people in our caucus as possible to get us to the votes we need to pass it early next week.” Rojas said.

But it was unclear Saturday whether enough changes had been made to gain the support of some progressive House Democrats. Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said early in the session that she would not support a bill that did not meet her social equity goals. She was noncommittal Saturday, saying that she was reviewing a copy of the deal.

“The devil is in the details,” Porter said when asked whether the progressive wing of the caucus would support the negotiated deal. “I know people are still out to lunch on it. They haven’t made up their minds because there are several people that do want to see the bill language.”

But with the clock on the session quickly running out, Democrats may soon reach a point where they lack the time to run the bill even if they can wrangle the votes. Both chambers must debate and pass a $46 billion budget package as well as a series of bills to implement the budget. There are other potentially controversial and time-consuming proposals expected to be run before the session ends, including a bill to create a highway user fee on tractor-trailer trucks.

Meanwhile, minority Republicans gain more leverage in the final days of a session. When there are mere hours left before adjournment, any bill with significant opposition can be debated at length, chewing up valuable time. Candelora said he had recently been approached by supporters of cannabis legalization trying to court Republican votes. He said it would have helped if Republicans had been included in the talks or had seen the language of the bill.

“What we’re seeing right now is maybe an attempt to find a way to blame the Republicans for pot not being called– that’s probably why I’m being engaged three days before session is ending so that the blame game can begin, when in fact it’s been a civil war [among Democrats] throughout this entire session,” Candelora said.

The Republican leader said significant support from the minority party was unlikely, though not necessarily due to the concept of legalization. He said there would likely be objections to some of the reported equity provisions which, he said, may move the bill far afield of “capitalist free market principles.”

“When this was first proposed 10 years ago, everybody always said in the building this shouldn’t be about money and that’s all it’s become about,” Candelora said.

Supporters have not given up hope, however. House Democrats met again Saturday and briefly discussed the bill during a caucus some lawmakers described as productive. Earlier in the session, House Speaker Matt Ritter said he was open to the idea of taking up a cannabis bill during a special legislative session. On Saturday afternoon, he kept the option open, but said he did not believe it would be necessary.

“I think we can get it done next week,” Ritter said. “I think from my viewpoint, we’re in that ballpark where it can happen. So I think it’s – throw it on the board and see what happens and people go ‘oh my god, you can’t do that. Yeah we can.”

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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