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Merits and concerns of legal recreational pot debated in front of lawmakers

HARTFORD — Think back to prohibition. Something that is currently illegal, may soon be legal.

Five bills dealing with pot were on the table for a public hearing at the Capitol complex. The bills ranged from some minor changes in the medical marijuana statutes, to expunging criminal records for some drug offenses. But the big bill — would legalize marijuana recreationally across the state for retail sale.

“Legalization should happen in Connecticut,” said Norman Plude of Seymour. The marquee bill to do it is HB 7371. It would bring a regulated retail marijuana industry to Connecticut. Chris Hempowicz of Bridgeport said, “Society at this point is not mature enough to handle it.”

The bill establishes a regulatory Cannabis Control Commission Chaired by the Commissioner of Consumer Protection, Michelle Seagull. “It’s a good idea to take a more thoughtful approach to that,” said Seagull.

All the pot sold would be grown in Connecticut, farmers can even apply. If you want in on the industry, the bill gives priority to applicants in high crime areas. The thought is that those areas have been disproportionately affected by law enforcement and they must be allowed into the legal environment. But it’s costly. A $25,000 fee just to apply. A license fee of $75,000 and a $75,000 renewal fee every two years. Michael Mimnaugh of Torrington said, “I want it to be affordable. Most people aren’t going to have millions to get into this industry.”

Tucked into the bill is a study on possible home growing. “In case they can’t afford it, especially for medicinal purposes. I think that’s something the state has neglected to look at,” said Joe LaChance from Connecticut Normal.

The provisions seek to limit how many marijuana shops open in any one area. Republicans worry it won’t flush out the illegal market. State Rep. Holly Cheeseman is a Republican representing East Lyme and Salem said, “If it’s 20 or 30 percent more expensive in a legal establishment as opposed to the black market, do you really think it’s going to disappear?”

The bill would ban pot-tarts or any food meant to look like a regular edible, as well as products designed to appeal to kids. All products would be required to be slapped with a warning label. “No they should appeal to adults this is an adult market and I think that’s what people need to realize,” said LaChance.

The bill also contains an opt out clause for any community to ban pot shops or grow houses.

What’s not clear from any of these bills is how marijuana would be taxed and some lawmakers believe the addictive chemical THC, should be limited. Public safety personnel have concerns about the lack of a test to determine if someone is driving high.

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