A bad idea whose time has probably come

Last week, legislation that could result in the legalization of recreational marijuana in Connecticut advanced out of the General Law Committee at the General Assembly by a vote of 10 to 8, with Democrats taking the lead in a partisan divide. According to coverage in the Hartford Courant and CT Mirror, discussion in the committee centered not only on the pros and cons of having the weed legally available to adult Connecticut residents, but also on the issue of equity incentives to support those who live in the most at-risk communities for incarceration as a result of marijuana arrests over the years. One Democratic legislator, Sen. Douglas McCrory of Hartford (D-2), actually ended up voting against the legislation because it did not offer enough opportunities for minorities to enter the industry that could be created in the state if the proposals in play now become law.  

This is one of the bills addressing recreational marijuana working their way through committee votes, which should come together for a general vote before the long legislative session ends in June. It’s not the first time such legislation has been voted through committee to be considered by the state House and Senate, but it does seem this may be the time that it finds enough votes to pass on to the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont, who has supported legalization and would surely sign it. One consideration in favor of legalization is that Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana use, creating a competitive incentive for tax revenues (which can be as high as 20 percent of sales in Massachusetts and are being proposed at a similar rate for Connecticut.) Another is the inequity of consequences felt by minority communities in marijuana arrests, affecting over decades the social and cultural stability of neighborhoods and municipalities. 

There is also, however, the consideration of easier access to a substance that would cause impairment if abused while doing something like operating a motor vehicle. Consider the tragic story this week in the arrest for manslaughter second degree of one young Sharon man in the death of his friend in a car accident last July. The driver, who was found at the scene to be driving under the influence, was indicated to have been abusing alcohol, but the passenger who died had traces of both alcohol and marijuana (THC) in his bloodstream. Part of the difficulty with legalizing marijuana is finding a way to define and control its use by drivers. The THC can apparently remain in the blood of the user long after its initial use, making it impossible to test adequately for impairment while driving under its influence. This knowledge could lead to more drivers using the potentially legal marijuana that can’t be measured, rather than alcohol, which can, but with equally tragic consequences.

 Yet, as one person who has worked supporting recovering alcoholics for years reluctantly admitted to this writer recently, this could be a bad idea whose time has come. Medical and illegal marijuana is available quite readily now, despite remaining illegal by federal law. With recreational weed also now very accessible just over the state line in Massachusetts (as reported in this newspaper), the substance is almost as easy to obtain as legal alcohol. Why not have it more controlled and regulated by the state? And have the state benefit from its sale, as it benefits from the once-illegal gambling industry? The caveat should be that there needs to be a way found to measure its use by those who are underage or abusing it while driving. 

Increasing public danger due to marijuana’s abuse is not a desirable outcome, but having it more available for responsible recreational and medical use with greater regulation and control is.