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01/29/2019 02:48 PM

Guilford Residents Advocate Against Retail Marijuana Legalization

With the General Assembly back in session, the debate over the potential legalization of retail marijuana is heating up again. Full legalization is a possibility in this legislative session and members of the Guilford community recently journeyed to Hartford to speak out against legalization.

On Jan. 22, State Representatives Vincent Candelora (R-86) and Noreen Kokoruda (R-101) co-hosted a “Know the Risks” press conference along with the Connecticut Chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (CT SAM), Connecticut Association of Prevention Professionals, students, advocates, law enforcement, health professionals, and local officials to discuss the implications and health risks associated with legalizing retail marijuana in Connecticut.

Guilford resident and CT SAM spokesman Bo Huhn said legislators need to think through all of the potential risks before casting a vote on the topic.

“I believe we really do need to understand the impact this could have on the state, on our kids, [and] on our families, and we need to really look through the different aspects of the question and really be sure we know what we are doing,” he said.

Legalization of retail or non-medical marijuana has been a topic of conversation in Connecticut for years. Conversations intensified after Massachusetts voted in favor of legalization and advocates for legalization have pointed to retail marijuana as a revenue source for the state. However, opponents of legalization have expressed concerns over drug abuse, mental health, affects on youth, and law enforcement issues.

Candelora said he has been looking at research on legalization for a while now and wants all legislators to go into a potential legalization debate with their eyes wide open. He said the focus can’t just be on potential revenue.

“When I first started looking at this issue, I was not necessarily adamantly against legalization, but as time has gone on and research has come forward, I have become more and more adamant that as a nation this is a mistake in what we are doing,” he said.

Candelora said he doesn’t want to look back and have people realize too late that the push to commercialize marijuana was the same trap as big tobacco.

“As this continues to come before the General Assembly year after year, we have new faces that pop up in opposition,” he said. “The people that are on the front lines—the behavioral health professions, the police force, our students—are all a ‘No’ on the issue and I think we should take pause and listen to why.”

Connecticut Police Chiefs Association President Jim Cetran said law enforcement officials are against legalization because police officers do not have the ability to effectively test if someone is driving under the influence of marijuana. Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, spoke about what marijuana usage can do to a developing brain an echoed law enforcement concerns over impaired drivers.

“There is absolutely no question that cannabis impairs many cognitive processes,” he said. “I would like you all to pause and think about what might happen when we have people who are driving stoned on I-95. We all want to have our roads safe and right now our colleagues in law enforcement don’t have the necessary tools to be able to monitor and evaluate people effectively when they are driving under the influence of cannabis.”

Guilford High School (GHS) students attended the press conference to express their views on how legalization will affect youth in the state. GHS senior Elizabeth Abernathy said legalization could detrimentally harm youth for generations to come.

“One of the aspects of this debate that frustrates me the most is that we have legislators who believe that marijuana would only be legalized for people over the age of 21 and youth would not gain access to this harmful drug,” she said. “I can tell you this is not correct. I can tell you right now even though retail marijuana is not legal in the state, many students still have access to it and use it regularly…By legalizing it you are just opening the gate for people of all ages to gain access.”

Legislators are expecting a push to legalization in this session. The progressive caucus made legalization a legislative priority this year and a number of bills have already been introduced through various committees. Legalization bills had previously failed but the effort to legalize now has been bolstered by a strong Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate. Gov. Ned Lamont also expressed in his campaign last year that he thinks legalization is “an idea whose time has come.”