Republicans call for major Cannabis changes over safety concerns
Unable to defeat the 2021 law on the retail sales of adult-use cannabis, minority Republicans on Tuesday proposed a wide variety of changes, including the outright banning of edibles, and a new requirement that all forms of the drug are packaged in child-proof containers.
They also want to make it easier for police to stop and search vehicles when drivers are observed smoking or vaping; and require labels to include warnings that cannabis use may become addictive, and lead to psychosis and birth defects.
In response, a major proponent of the adult-use law, state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said many of the GOP proposals are non-starters in this legislative session, where Democrats have solid majorities in both the House and Senate. In particular, Winfield opposes any move to allow marijuana stops at the discretion of police.
The latest volley in Connecticut's cannabis laws, which started in 2012 with the approval of medical marijuana, occurred during a morning news conference in the Legislative Office Building, when House Republicans led by Minority Leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford called for "better guardrails" as retail sales rolled out this month. In the proposed legislation, further sales would be suspended until a drug recognition-expert certification program was operational.
"It wasn't that long ago where the governor was celebrating with a state song that was making fun of the state of Connecticut getting into the pot business," Candelora said. "I think people are now realizing that it is no joking matter what we have seen, which has started to come out of the commercialization of marijuana."
Candelora, Rep. Holley Cheeseman of East Lyme, along with sixth-term state Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, a top Republican on the legislative General Law Committee, voiced concern about children ingesting edibles.
Proposals include banning any form of THC, the active psychotropic ingredient in cannabis, to be sold at gas stations; requiring the Department of Consumer Protection to review distribution procedures and declare second-hand cannabis smoke toxic to human health; establish a limit on the amount of THC, per dose, in products; and ban cannabis use in places where drinking alcohol is prohibited.
The current adult-use law requires cities of more than 50,000 residents to designate public places where consuming cannabis is allowed.
"The adverse medical consequences from these products at these strengths is staggering," Rutigliano said. He said that currently, some gas stations might be breaking the law by selling products that may or may not contain THC in certain products called Delta 8 or Delta 9. He stressed the need to limit edibles sold in dispensaries to certain sizes and doses, so in the case of cookies and candies, consumers do not take higher doses. The General Law Committee will schedule a public hearing on cannabis proposals on Thursday, Feb. 2.
"Anyone who uses this needs to know it's dangerous," said Cheeseman, a top Republican on the tax-writing Finance Committee, who was a major opponent of the full legalization of cannabis. "Now that is legal in the state of Connecticut we are not doing our job as a legislature if we don't some of the side effects of this legalization."
Cheeseman noted that last year, the UConn Health Center requested an additional $160,000 for poison control because children needing treatment after eating cannabis edibles rose from 20 incidents a year to 100, with the expectation of an eventual doubling or tripling. "All edibles must be sold in a required child-proof container," Cheeseman said. Republicans have also submitted legislation that would require young drivers to take course on the effects of marijuana consumption. "There is, again, no safe level of marijuana intoxication when you are driving," she said.
Winfield, who led the 2021 Senate debate that led to the adult-use law, said that the part of the GOP proposal that would return discretion to police who suspect drivers are using marijuana, would overturn much of the point of the law, which was aimed at making up for the effects of generations of the failed drug war that targeted urban residents, disproportionately impacting neighborhoods where now, residents are being selected for participating in the new cannabis economy under the state's Social Equity Council.
"They want to be able to pull you over if they see you might have cannabis in the car," Winfield said. "People could be smoking cigarettes. Should police be allowed the type of profiling they had in the past? No we shouldn't."
"To me it never was about the revenue," Winfield said after the Republican news conference. "It's was about making sure that bad policy that was in place was no longer in place. If they want to leave injustices in place, that's the way they play. It still has to pass the (State Capitol) building. My suggestion is that people who are serious, must be circumspect. There is a conversation you have in front of the press and there are other conversations."