WALLINGFORD — A group of state and local elected officials held a rally on the steps of Town Hall Saturday morning in opposition to proposed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana.
About 50 people attended, including a small contingent of marijuana legalization supporters.
Republican Mayor William Dickinson Jr. was the motivator for the event, calling the question of legalization “a great debate.”
“We needed to say something about this because we are going to inherit the problems as a community,” he said after the event.
He claimed there is not conclusive evidence that marijuana usage is not harmful, citing reports from the Food and Drug Administration and other state and local agencies. Without a round of federal testing and approvals, Dickinson doesn't support legalization.
“This is standardization. There are standards to be applied,” he said. “This is science. It’s not emotion. Emotions make a mess.”
He drew a correlation between the proposed legislation and the nationwide opioid crisis.
“Do we have a current example where something has happened without appropriate testing? Yes. Opioids were approved for short term use,” the mayor said. “There was no testing done to determine if they were appropriate for long term use. Now we have an epidemic the likes of which the country has never seen. Here we are going to be headed down the same pathway again.”
North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda, also a Republican, argued against the use of any recreational marijuana. He said he has not seen any standards that refute the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. He was also concerned that legalization could result in increased incidents of impaired driving.
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, rejected the assertion that legalization would create a financial windfall that would alleviate some of the state’s financial pressures. Fasano’s district includes Wallingford.
“That’s absolutely wrong,” he said, citing the negative impacts of increased law enforcement and public health costs found after legalization in Colorado. “Even if it was, are we going to sell our souls to fill our coffers?” This is the worst bill I’ve ever seen on so many levels. A degradation of our cities.”
Wallingford resident Michael Ross attended the rally with two other pro-marijuana advocates, waving a flag emblazoned with pot symbols. He described the rally as “absolute nonsense.”
Ross said marijuana helped him with his medical issues and said it has been a less destructive force in his family than alcohol.
“That plant helped me so much,” he said.
State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, takes no position on marijuana itself, only saying that because it is currently illegal at the federal level, he believes legislators have an obligation to oppose any state legalization measures.
Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, advocates marijuana’s availability be limited to people over the age of 25 because of studies that show that is when brain development is done. Since that is not part of the legislation, she refuses to support the bill.
“Why harm a young person in the beginning of their fruitful life when their brains are still developing?” she said.
The legislators were reacting to a package of bills unveiled on Thursday that would collectively pave the way for the sale of recreational marijuana in Connecticut.
Rep. Michael D'Agostino, D-Hamden and co-chair of the General Law Committee, said the bills would address the decriminalization of marijuana, a regulation and licensing structure, and a tax rate on sales.
Those three issues fall under the purview of three separate legislative committees, requiring the need for multiple bills, said D'Agostino, adding Thursday's announcement was just the beginning in a "complicated process."
The regulatory bill would include licenses for the cultivation of marijuana, manufacturing of products, and retail sales.
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford and co-chair of the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the proposal calls for an "overall tax rate" of 20 percent, mirroring Massachusetts' process.
A proposal before the Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, would make marijuana legal and allow those convicted of possession to have the conviction expunged from their criminal record.
State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, long a proponent for legalization, told the Record-Journal earlier this week that the time is coming for Connecticut to join other states.
“We in Connecticut are going to be in the middle,” he said, “and our residents are going to go to New York and Massachusetts (to buy marijuana), and we wouldn’t get revenue generated from that.”
Staff member Mike Savino contributed to this story.