With the arrival of the new year, it is time to take stock of Connecticut’s legal landscape regarding the marijuana industry and what can be expected for the near future.
Connecticut legalized the use of medicinal marijuana when House Bill 5389 was passed in June 2012, making Connecticut the 17th state to pass such legislation. Connecticut has licensed 16 medical marijuana dispensaries, which are overseen by the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (the DCP). Patients, over the age of 18, may only be qualified under the State’s medicinal marijuana program if they are diagnosed as having one of 36 recognized “debilitating Medical Conditions.” The use of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, is still illegal under federal law, because marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means the federal government regards it as having a high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the United States.
The million-dollar question remains: when will Connecticut legalize the use of recreational marijuana? In March and April of 2019, the Connecticut legislative session saw three committees advance three bills — House Bill 7371, Senate Bill 1085, and Senate Bill 1138 — to legalize, regulate, and tax recreational marijuana. The legislature, however, adjourned on June 5, without bringing any of those bills to a vote. Polling suggests that voters clearly favor legalization for recreational use. Connecticut’s Governor Ned Lamont has indicated that legalization of recreational marijuana is a priority of his administration and hopes to move forward with its legalization this year. On October 17, 2019, Governor Lamont attended the Governors’ Regional Cannabis & Vaping Summit in New York during which he made public his desire to create a coherent and consistent set of regulations in unison with the State’s neighbors stating, “[i]t’s just unconscionable…this patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all.”
The surge in popularity of Cannabidiol (CBD), evidenced by the immense growth in sales and development in the State, suggest that recreational use is imminent. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound derived from industrial hemp or Cannabis sativa L containing a THC concentration level of less than 0.3 percent on a dry-weight basis. Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, allowed, for the first time, pilot programs and research to be conducted on CBD to determine whether hemp farming would be beneficial to American businesses. The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, signed by President Trump, however, was the game changer that removed CBD and CBD-related products from the Controlled Substances list and precipitated the recent explosion in hemp, CBD, and CBD-related products across the country.
Connecticut was one of the first states to capitalize on the demand for CBD and CBD-related products, a multitude of which are now sold in venues throughout the State, from coffee shops to gas stations. Generally, all growers of hemp in Connecticut must obtain a license through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. If the grower intends to make hemp products intended for human consumption, the grower must also obtain a manufacturer of hemp consumable license through the Connecticut DCP. No license is currently required to purchase CBD extract from a lawfully authorized manufacturer and to incorporate it as an ingredient into a food or human ingestible product.
With the changes in federal law regarding CBD and the continued expansion of the State’s medical marijuana program, the climate for marijuana in Connecticut is robust. However, Connecticut’s legislature has yet to indicate whether Connecticut will legalize recreational marijuana this year, and both Governor Lamont and New York’s Governor Cuomo have indicated a preference for working in collaboration with neighboring states to develop and implement a regulated recreational marijuana industry. The public officials involved in the process also appear mindful of the implications of the recent vaping crisis and social justice issues that any proposed legislation will surely have to address. The State should continue to see growth in 2020 for the medicinal marijuana and CBD markets, while a wait-and-see approach should be taken regarding recreational marijuana.