Debate over recreational marijuana use lights up at Capitol

Lawmakers and representatives from several police departments were on hand to unveil the STOP Pot CT campaign (WTNH / Tom Parent)

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– Will Connecticut join the handful of states around the nation to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana?

It is a hot topic at the Capitol, where you can find bipartisan agreement for and against it, whether Connecticut should legalize recreational use of marijuana, tax and regulate it similar to alcohol. Tuesday was the first day of public testimony on which way the state should proceed. It was sort of like dueling press conferences at the Legislative Office Building. First lawmakers in favor of marijuana legalization, followed immediately by dozens of police chiefs from Connecticut, who are against legalization.

“It’s not easy conversation to have but as lawmakers we have a responsibility to bring these issues to the forefront,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam).

Her bill is one of four that would legalize adult recreational use in one way or another.

Related: Recreational marijuana proposals to get two public hearings

With the state facing a $1.7 billion projected deficit, the argument to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults is seen as an attractive way to raise revenue.

“This could potentially create $63 million in the first year of legalization,” said Rep. Toni Walker (D-New Haven), co-chair of the Appropriations committee. “And $104 million in the second year.”

Another argument is that, like it or not, marijuana is already in Connecticut, and regulating it for adult use is one way to head off the illegal drug trade.

“If we don’t regulate, we’re actually subsidizing drug lords trafficking in our state,” said Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven). “We need to act now.”

But more than three dozen chiefs of police, front-line soldiers in the battle against drug enforcement in Connecticut, disagree. They said at a morning press conference that legalizing recreational use is a serious public safety issue to consider.

“We believe in the state of Connecticut this will do nothing to improve quality of life,” said Monroe Chief John Salvatore, head of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. “The revenue will be more than offset by the cost to regulate and for us to police.”

Several high school students from Guilford also came to the podium, urging lawmakers to not relax marijuana laws even more.

“If marijuana is legalized, then we would get the message that marijuana is OK to use when it’s not,” said Gabby Palumbo, a Guilford High School student.

This is a bipartisan issue. You can find prominent Democrats and Republicans in favor of legalizing. And prominent Republicans and Democrats, including Governor Malloy who are against it.

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