Letter to the editor submitted by Sean Goldrick, who served two terms as a Democratic member of the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation. He lives in Riverside.
During a recent broadcast of WNPR’s public affairs program “The Wheelhouse” journalists broke out in howls of derisive laughter when it was mentioned that General Assembly Democrats were reviving legislation to legalize the use of recreational marijuana.
The next day, Hearst published an editorial in its Fairfield County newspapers opposing legalization this session, calling it “simply a distracting subplot,” and denouncing “paying for past sins through the income of vices.”
Yet, contrary to the press corps’s opposition, legalization is an issue whose time has come.
Support for legalization is gaining momentum across the country. Last fall, voters in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts approved ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana use. Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas and Florida residents voted to legalize medical marijuana, or make its medicinal use easier. That makes eight states that have now legalized recreational marijuana, and 30 that permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation last month to legalize marijuana across Canada.
Americans now strongly support legalization. According to a CBS poll published this spring, 61% of Americans favor legalization, while only 33% oppose it. Three-quarters of Americans under 35 favor legalization, as do 62% of Americans between the ages of 35 and 64. The poll also revealed that half of all Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives.
Connecticut has already come a long way toward legalization. In 2011, the state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, and the following year enacted legislation permitting the prescription of marijuana for medical purposes. Today, more than 4,000 licensed physicians in Connecticut prescribe marijuana for over 18,000 patients.
Among the many common sense reasons for legalization, an important one is budgetary. Fully two-thirds of all states are facing budget deficits, including Connecticut, which is dealing with a projected deficit of nearly $5 billion over the next two years. Marijuana presents an important new source of tax revenue that cannot be ignored. Among the states that have legalized recreational use, Colorado collected over a quarter of a billion dollars in sales tax from marijuana last year. Oregon, in its first year of marijuana sales, collected over $60 million in sales taxes, while Washington took in $67 million. Washington expects to collect over a quarter of a billion dollars in marijuana revenues in 2017, and more than $300 million in 2018.
Connecticut’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that Connecticut could collect over $13 million in tax revenues in its first fiscal year, rising to more than $60 million in the second year. If Connecticut follows Washington’s and Colorado’s pattern, in its third year of operation, the state could receive tax revenues of $120-180 million.
That would mean that the state could generate enough tax revenues from marijuana sales to maintain the earned income tax credit program for hard-working, low-income families, a program which Republicans are attempting to virtually eliminate; or substantially reduce borrowings required for school construction; or provide much needed support for educational cost sharing.
Yet even if Connecticut weren’t facing a major budget deficit requiring more revenues, legalization should still be enacted.
Dr. David Nathan, psychiatrist and professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, put it best in his testimony before the general assembly: “I’ve seen too many cases of lives ruined by marijuana – not by the drug itself, but by a justice system that chooses a sledgehammer to kill a weed.”
Nationally, more than half a million Americans are arrested every year for simple possession of marijuana, and more than 200,000 have lost federal financial aid eligibility for college due to marijuana convictions. According to the ACLU, police arrest more people for simple marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.
The time has come for Connecticut to legalize recreational marijuana. The general assembly has before it a strong bill in HB 11, proposed by Senator Martin Looney and Representative Toni Walker. Opinion polls show strong support for legalization, and our state needs the tax revenues.
It’s time for the general assembly to act. The press corps can catch up later.