Welcome to the next installment in the series of educational articles from technical writer Curt Robbins at Higher Learning LV and MJNews Network. This collection is intended for cannabis and hemp industry professionals who wish to gain a better understanding of the nuanced biochemistry, volatile business environment, and detailed regulation of this newly legal herb.
This week, readers learn about Connecticut, the most recent U.S. state to legalize adult-use cannabis for its residents who are 21 and older. Many aspects of the new law are unique or rare among states that have implemented adult-use cannabis legalization to date. State officials claim that they have developed and are about to implement “the best [cannabis] bill in the country.”
Among many other notable accomplishments, the state’s progress-minded legislation opens the door to possible cannabis lounges down the road and—get this—requires some cities to create public marijuana consumption areas. Legalization in America is becoming truly surreal. Read on to learn more.
On June 22, 2021, the state of Connecticut legalized adult-use cannabis via its new law SB 1201 to become the 19th U.S. state to do so (the 20th if one includes the District of Columbia). The mere fact that the state has made this leap of faith into the controversial waters of legal/regulated/taxed cannabis for its citizenry is obviously notable news (especially for those who work in the cannabis industry, the target audience of this text and video series).
Said Governor Ned Lamont at the press conference that officially announced the new pot policy, “The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets. By allowing adults to possess cannabis [and] regulating its sale, we’re…effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities.” He added that he thinks the new law also is “keeping Connecticut economically competitive with [its] neighboring states.”
The new legislation is similar to many others in the nation, only with more relaxed limits on some of the numbers. Connecticut will permit 1.5 ounces of loose-leaf flower to be carried by a person and five ounces to be stored at their home or in their vehicle (as long as it is securely locked). The law even includes a provision for home cultivation (“home grow”).
Connecticut’s House Majority Leader, Jason Rojas, thinks the state’s new law is the “most comprehensive” and best in the nation—and he may be right. “History will tell us if that’s true or not, but I feel confident in saying yes, right now, this is the best bill in the country and it’s going to move us in a direction of ensuring that we provide a well-regulated marketplace for adult-use cannabis for [those] who want to participate in that kind of activity.”
Some experts predict that the state could generate more than $725 million in annual sales by 2025 and collect tax revenue of $600 million during the first five years of operation. This would obviously infuse the state’s coffers with much-needed operating capital, especially on the heels of the economic downturn that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Like California and the entire West Coast, Connecticut’s new law allows municipalities to ban cannabis businesses, basically opting out of the new legislation (a move that, often, is accomplished via modification of zoning ordinances).
But that’s not the biggest news.
More insight is gained from exactly how Connecticut (which features a population of 3.6 million and is only a quarter larger than Humboldt County, California) plans to regulate and restrict legal operators and their consumers in its adult-use cannabis market. Turns out that The Constitution State is proving to be quite progressive and perhaps, dare we say, innovative.
Public Consumption Spaces
Connecticut has included a provision in its new adult-use cannabis law that requires municipalities in the state with populations in excess of 50,000 to create and maintain public consumption spaces. How exactly these spaces might manifest is currently pure speculation.
Here’s the language of the bill: “If the municipality’s population is greater than fifty thousand, such regulations shall designate a place in the municipality in which public consumption of cannabis is permitted.”
Of equal significance are the areas and business types where cannabis consumption will not be tolerated. These include grocery and convenience stores, state parks, businesses holding liquor licenses, schools, child care facilities, dormitories (for both public and private institutions), dog race tracks, elevators, and restaurants (among others).
Proving that reality sometimes matches the story telling mojo of Hollywood, zones where cannabis smoking/vaping are prohibited in Connecticut also include “the bar area of a bowling establishment.” Despite the fact that eager cannabis consumers won’t be permitted to share joints of Purple Urkle at the bowling alley bar, this language implies that willing owners/managers may legally permit pot smoking in other areas of their bowling alleys. (Is a weed-drenched East Coast reboot of 1998’s The Big Lebowski on the way?)
For those keeping score, infractions of this smoking restriction clause of the law will involve a $250 fine.
The logic behind the rules is clear (and reasonable): Connecticut is attempting to prevent public spaces, even those that are privately owned but accessed by the public, from becoming cough-inducing smoke dens that would necessarily offend 1) those who abstain from smoking anything, 2) those who dislike the aroma of smoked cannabis, and 3) people who abhor second-hand smoke from any burned substance (a significant portion of the population).
Social Equity Focus
Social equity and fair access have been core issues of the emerging legal cannabis industry for many years. However, states such as California and others have met a variety of impediments in this area, including infighting and bureaucratic red tape. This has prevented many governments from implementing or maintaining effective social equity programs.
The new Connecticut law sets aside an industry-leading 50 percent of licenses for equity applicants. In addition, up to 75 percent of tax revenue collected from the legal sale of adult-use cannabis will be directed toward “equity efforts and community reinvestment.”
Motels & Hotels
Equally progressive is Connecticut’s requirement that all motels and hotels must allow their guests to consume cannabis within the privacy of their rooms (although consumption in public areas of these facilities will remain prohibited). While a seeming victory for cannabis legalization advocates and traveling potheads, the details of this provision reveal some significant limitations.
Sec. 89 of the law states that “No hotel, motel, or similar lodging shall prohibit the legal possession or consumption of cannabis in any nonpublic area of such hotel, motel, or similar lodging.”
However, before doing a happy dance, readers should note that the state severely limits the number of rooms in a facility that may allow the smoking and vaping of cannabis. “The operator of a hotel, motel, or similar lodging may allow guests to smoke [or vape] in not more than twenty-five percent of the rooms,” reads the new state law.
This quirky policy, which on the surface makes little sense, may be a message from the state’s lawmakers that they wish to in the future craft legislation specific to cannabis tourism and hospitality. Many experts within the nascent cannabis industry have predicted significant market potential from tourism that caters specifically to cannabis consumers. Perhaps this provision within the new law is the state’s way of putting its foot in the proverbial door of future tourism tax revenue and overall economic benefits.
Demonstrating that it can out-progress fellow adult-use state California and most of Canada, Connecticut’s new marijuana law prevents landlords from discriminating against applicants or current tenants based on prior cannabis convictions. Likewise, landlords and property management companies are also prohibited from drug testing tenant applicants.
The language of the law: “Except as provided in this section, a landlord or property manager may not refuse to rent to a prospective tenant or an existing tenant, or otherwise discriminate against a prospective tenant or an existing tenant, based on a past conviction for possession of a cannabis-type substance.”
While Sec. 90 (b) of the law, which goes into effect July 1, 2022, prevents landlords from prohibiting the possession or consumption of cannabis, they can say no to the smoking or vaping of the herb within their building or on their grounds. This obviously limits tenants to consumption avenues such as edibles and sublingual tinctures while at home.
Many adult-use legal cities and states have implemented prior cannabis conviction record expungement, either integrated into their legalization at launch or added as amendments or separate bills after the fact.
The new Connecticut pot law automatically clears cannabis convictions involving four ounces or less of cannabis, beginning January 1, 2023, for those who were charged between January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2015. Those charged before January 1, 2000 or from October 1, 2015 through June 30, 2021 may, beginning June 1, 2022, petition the court for expungement. Those convicted of cannabis amounts exceeding four ounces will be ineligible for such expungement.
Connecticut joins adult-use states Arizona, Michigan, Montana, New York, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia, which have also automatically cleared some of their marijuana conviction records (but in many cases, similar to Connecticut, have limited their remediation to relatively minor offences).
Odor No Longer Probable Cause
Another progressive aspect of the new legislation is its stance on probable cause for police and other authorities when it comes to searches of people and vehicles. Connecticut joins states such as Arizona, Massachusetts, and Vermont that have also removed the odor of marijuana from what may be considered good and just reason for authorities to inspect a person or their car.
The language of the law: “Any of the following circumstances shall not constitute in part or in whole probable cause or reasonable suspicion and shall not be used as a basis to support any stop or search of a person or motor vehicle: (1) The odor of cannabis or burnt cannabis.”
Private Consumption Protections
Connecticut’s SB 1201 also protects employees from discrimination by employers, but these rights aren’t unlimited.
“No employer shall discharge from employment or take any adverse action against any employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or other privileges of employment because such employee does or does not smoke, vape, aerosolize, or otherwise use cannabis products outside of the workplace.”
Under the law, employers understandably retain the right to prohibit possession and consumption of cannabis at the workplace (and may legally discipline staff members who violate such policies by consuming at work). Conversely, those hyper-progressive employers that wish to allow their employees to blast bong bowls of Bruce Banner at work are allowed to legally do so (as long as they don’t violate any other provisions of the new law in the process).
Home Grow Provision
Despite the wave of adult-use cannabis legalization sweeping North America, many state laws prohibit personal cultivation (sometimes called “home grow”). The Connecticut law, a pleasant exception, allows adults to grow up to six plants, but they’ll have to wait until July 1, 2023 to begin doing so legally.
Grow limits apply to not only individuals, but also households, which can “grow no more than 12 cannabis plants at any given time.” All cultivation must be restricted to “personal use” and all plants must be “secure from access by any individual other than the consumer.” The details of how citizens must secure their plants or otherwise comply with the law are currently not defined, but will be included in the forthcoming regulations.
Consumption Lounge Possibility
While Connecticut has not included a provision that would allow cannabis consumption lounges to legally operate in the state with the implementation of SB 1201, it has opened the door to their inclusion in a potential revision to the law in a couple of years.
The state has committed to, no later than January 1, 2023, “make written recommendations concerning whether to authorize on-site consumption or events that allow for cannabis usage, including whether to establish a cannabis on-site consumption or event license.”
That’s a Wrap
The excitement surrounding the June 2021 entry of Connecticut to the ever-growing throng of adult-use legal states in the U.S. is only increased by some of its relatively progressive provisions. These include tenant protections, real social equity, and possession limits that favor consumers more than many other state laws.
Public consumption spaces, tenant rights, a provision for personal cultivation, automatic (and petitioned) conviction expungement, and relatively liberal possession limits set a positive example for states that legalize in the future. SB 1201 is an arguably above-average start to Connecticut’s coming legal adult-use cannabis market.