It appears that lawmakers, activists and advocates for legal marijuana spent a good portion of their day Tuesday in a public hearing – one of many to come – on one of four bills introduced to legalize, tax and regulate the use, cultivation and sale of cannabis for the state of Connecticut. They started out hearing everyone who was in support of the bills, who cited many different reasons to legalize cannabis and, of course, that was followed up by prohibitionist style arguments and suggestions of taking it slow and watching neighboring Massachusetts roll out legal marijuana before making a decision on it themselves.
“It is time to consider legalizing marijuana for adults,” said State Rep Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, and sponsor of a bill to legalize recreational use during testimony before the General Assembly’s public health committee.
Among the reasons cited to support such legislation was naturally tax revenue, which is important for the state right now as they have a predicted deficit of $1.7 billion. However, while tax revenue is important, and clearly in this case very much needed, it is not the only major improvement that legalization could bring and advocates made sure that was known by pointing out that it would (over time) shut down illegal sales altogether, eliminating the need for a black market and the dangers that come along with such a market.
“It’s not just about the revenue,” Ziobron said. “In Denver tourism is at all-time high, no pun intended. They found marijuana laws increased the decision to go on vacation in Colorado by more than 50 percent.”
Tourism is also a great reason to consider legalization – not only will you have created a whole new tax revenue and industry, but vacationers who are looking to toke up on their trip would likely choose a legal cannabis state. Those visitors wouldn’t just spend money on marijuana either, they would still be contributing to many other industries during their stay including hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions.
On top of all this, legalizing cannabis would keep many people out of the legal system and allow both law enforcement and court systems more time and resources to focus on more pressing crimes. This is a common reason that local governments have turned to decriminalizing marijuana, making it a ticketed offense rather than a criminal one – and this has been seen to improve the allocation of resources in the criminal justice system, while not severely punishing anyone for simple cannabis possession.
“I realize this is a difficult issue for many,” Ziobron said. “But legal marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose in the 7,000 years of reported human use.”
In the end, all these things come together to prove there are far more benefits to legalization than there is to prohibition – but some lawmakers are not convinced. They either believe that legalizing marijuana, especially now, could be harmful to the future of the residents of the state, or they believe that they are better off taking things slowly, and watching nearby states and the federal government for a while longer before jumping on legalization.
It’s unfortunate that so many people can look past all the good things happening in states like Colorado and would prefer not to make a move out of fear – in the end causing more harm by continuing prohibition – rather than taking the opportunity that is right in front of them to improve things for the residents of their state. With at least four bills on the table, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, we can hope that the majority of the lawmakers in Connecticut are prepared to make this change a reality.