Marijuana: An issue we can solve

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We must legalize recreational marijuana in Connecticut. It’s time our state joins the forward thinking people of Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont to put an end to this modern day prohibition.

Most of the arguments we’ve seen for legalizing marijuana here in our state have focused on the financial benefits that additional tax revenue would generate. And to be sure, estimates of roughly $100 million in added revenue would indeed make a big difference in tackling our budget deficit. So would the savings we’d see by ending the costly enforcement of marijuana laws and ridiculous prison costs. Police officers could go back to protecting us from real threats, corrections costs would go down, and people’s lives would no longer be destroyed because of unjust marijuana laws.

Legalization does make sound financial sense, but this is hardly a financial issue. All early legalization efforts were accomplished through voter ballot initiatives for a reason—people want this freedom. The legalization of marijuana is about personal liberty, and we should not lose sight of that fact. It has become a moral issue in our society today, and proponents who focus too much on the financial needs of the state are wrong to see marijuana legalization merely as a functional solution to Connecticut’s budget crisis.

Let’s recognize a basic fact: there already is a thriving marijuana marketplace in Connecticut. People buy, sell, and consume cannabis every day, in every town and city in our state. They do so in the shadows, but we all know someone who smokes or has smoked marijuana. The marijuana they buy is grown elsewhere, smuggled illegally, and of unknown potencies and strains. The very act of purchasing it puts one at risk of arrest, job loss, eviction, or other serious consequences that have long-term social implications. Yet even with all these negatives, people are still willing to take a risk and buy marijuana.

We have only one sensible option going forward — to recognize this market exists and to work to make it better for everyone. I believe it is time to solve the issue of marijuana.

How we regulate marijuana sales will matter greatly, and we have several models that we could follow. Personally, I believe in a system of regulation that mirrors how we regulate alcohol. Consumers must be over the age of 21; retailers must be subject to the same vigorous inspection and enforcement; and packaging must indicate key information about potency and origin.

Our municipalities must also be key partners in setting up this regulatory system. No one-size-fits-all approach is going to work, and what’s good for a city like Middletown might not be right for another. It’s the same for alcohol sales. Some communities allow for many licenses, and other communities permit fewer. It was only three years ago —in 2014— that our last dry town, Bridgewater, permitted the sale of alcohol. It took a public referendum. That’s the Connecticut way. We do have deep-rooted traditions, and each community should have direct input over the businesses they decide, together, to permit.

By regulating our marijuana markets and ending this prohibition, we can create a new agricultural sector right here in the Connecticut River Valley. We can protect the tens of thousands of Connecticut cannabis consumers from adulterated products and unknown potencies. We can stop the destructive drug policies that disproportionately impact both poor and minority communities. And we can allow for personal freedom again. And, yes, while we’re at it, we can help raise revenue to fix Connecticut’s budget crisis.

The reticence by some to legalize marijuana is emblematic of a larger problem that exists in Connecticut: the lack of willingness to do things differently and the belief that we can’t do something because it’s too hard.

Legalizing and regulating marijuana will enable us to take a bold step forward in creating a more fair and just society, and will lead to greater prosperity for us all.

Dan Drew is the mayor of Middletown and a Democratic candidate for governor.

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