Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who’s working to build support among lawmakers for his proposal to legalize marijuana, recently asked New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) how she got a legal cannabis through her state legislature this year.
Lujan Grisham revealed in a new podcast interview that her Connecticut counterpart called for advice and she told him to consider decoupling legalization from related social justice proposals in order to make both easier to pass.
“Putting that all in one new industry approach, I think, is problematic, and it’s one of the reasons we had to call this special session here,” the governor said in an appearance on Growing Forward, a joint podcast from New Mexico Political Report and the state PBS affiliate. Separating legalization from criminal justice, she added, “engages everyone where they are.”
She added that she believes Lamont, who introduced legalization in his budget plan earlier this year, “is going to try exactly that strategy” after the two governors’ chat.
During a special legislative session in New Mexico earlier this month, lawmakers narrowly pushed a marijuana legalization measure across the finish line. In a move designed to muster enough votes to pass the bill, Democratic leaders removed its original criminal justice proposals and packaged them in separate legislation.
While both bills ultimately passed the legislature and have since become law, Lujan Grisham is now recommending to counterparts in other states that they adopt a similar strategy, decoupling legalization from related social justice proposals.
Listen to Lujan Grisham describe her cannabis advice to Lamont, about 22:30 into the audio below:
Lujan Grisham had been asked by podcast cohost Megan Kamerick what advice she would give to other governors or lawmakers working to pass their own legalization laws.
“I’m getting a little paranoid that you guys are listening to my phone calls,” the governor replied jokingly, explaining that she’d had a conversation a day or two earlier with Lamont, whose legalization proposal is currently before lawmakers. Lamont has said he expects voters will decide the issue at the ballot box if the legislature fails to pass his bill.
Lujan Grisham said that Lamont asked for advice following New Mexico’s successful passage of its legalization bill.
“His issue was, ‘How do you get the legislature when there are so many issues between the criminal justice or social justice side of things and protecting medical cannabis and launching legalization? I’m finding that it’s such a big undertaking, that I can’t keep the legislature all together, and I certainly can’t get it bipartisan enough,’” Lujan Grisham recalled.
“I did say that I thought it was really smart to separate the bills so that you’ve got a social justice—one’s contingent upon the other—so that you’ve got motivation to move them both,” she added.
In addition to creating thousands of jobs, generating truly impactful revenue, & righting past wrongs of criminalization, New Mexico can lead the nation in cannabis innovation.
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) April 23, 2021
In general, Lujan Grisham said she tells other governors not to rush into legalization without taking the time to gather facts and invite broad participation.
“I’ve already been reaching out and talking to governors about what I think you need to do, and my biggest advice was: Don’t launch into a legislative session without having a year, at least, to really talk with your stakeholders and your legislators about garnering expertise,” she said. “It’s a complex set of issues.”
Jason Ortiz, the policy director for the pro-legalization advocacy group CURE CT and a member of a legalization working group assembled by Lamont that issued recommendations on social equity, noted that state officials have already had years to discuss the ins and outs of the policy change.
“We’re not starting this year, we’ve been debating these details since 2019,” Ortiz told Marijuana Moment on Friday.
“The purpose of legalization is not to make Republicans happy, it’s to end failed policy and make impacted communities whole,” he added. “If the governor can remain focused on that, he can get a comprehensive bill done this year. If he wastes time trying to court Republicans who don’t support this, he will personally kill legalization with that mistake.”
A competing legalization measure in Connecticut, introduced by Rep. Robyn Porter (D), puts more emphasis on social equity within the cannabis industry. Unlike the governor’s proposal, Porter’s bill would allow home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants and would license social consumption sites. It also includes additional language on cannabis gifting and social equity applicants.
When the bill passed a committee vote late last month, Ortiz said reformers were “overjoyed to see an equity-centered legalization bill pass with the support of so many communities.”
Advocates are hopeful language from Porter’s bill could be incorporated into the governor’s legalization proposal, which they have said is inadequate as introduced.
Earlier this month, the measure cleared a Judiciary Committee vote after being amended by the panel. Other changes to Lamont’s legalization proposal are also expected as the bill makes its way through the legislature.
Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) said recently that “in principle, equity is important to both the administration and the legislature, and we’re going to work through those details.”
Lamont, for his part, has made a number of recent statements explaining his approach to legalization.
“There’s always a scramble about who gets the money and how much for this group versus that group,” he told reporters earlier this month, “so I’ll watch that and make sure it stays within the bounds. I think we all agree we want resources to go to the most distressed communities. I want it to go to economic development. I want it to go to mental health and addiction services. As long as we’re broadly within those parameters, I think we’ve got a deal.”
Lamont has indicated he’s open to a range of options on legalization. “You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said, but added that if a bill “doesn’t meet some basic requirements, you’ll put it off another year just like they have for many years in the past.”
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Connecticut’s legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. Those bills stalled, however.
Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.
House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said in November that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” He added later that month that “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you should have a vote regardless.” The governor said in an interview earlier this year that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”