, Marijuana joint paper. Marijuana joint paper. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

As recreational marijuana became legal in neighboring Massachusetts Tuesday, Connecticut lawmakers on both sides of the legalization debate believe Connecticut will most likely decriminalize marijuana use in its next legislative session.

Both Republican House member Vincent Candelora, who is a strong opponent of legalized marijuana, and Democratic House member Steven Stafstrom Jr., a supporter, believe the votes in the state Legislature will likely swing toward legalization in 2019. The next legislative session runs from Jan. 9 through early June.

Stafstrom, who like Candelora is a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the support of legalization from Democratic Gov.-Elect Ned Lamont could break the gridlock on the topic. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy was opposed to legalization of recreational use.

“I think Lamont can make a big difference,” Stafstrom said. “Certainly in a legislative structure we have a finite amount of time to get bills passed. The Legislature generally wants to focus on those substantive bills that have the best chance of becoming law, Ned Lamont has indicated a willingness to sign a bill (OK’ing legalization). That makes it an easier road to get the bill from start to finish.”

Candelora agreed that passage is probable.

“I would think it would pass,” Candelora told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday. “Many of those opposed to legalization have left the Legislature. I would hope, though, that people would get a better understanding of what the drug is before voting. It’s not the marijuana from the 1970s or 1980s. It’s a different and more powerful drug.”

Candelora, one of the most outspoken foes of legalization, said he fears what has happened in Colorado, where there is legalization, could happen in Connecticut if it votes to approve.

“People visiting Colorado say they smell pot everywhere,” Candelora said. “It’s been ingrained in their society. In Colorado, we have seen an increase in fatalities, in hospital room visits and an increase in homelessness. There are a lot of negatives. Marijuana is mind-altering and addicting.”

Candelora believes, if Connecticut were not mired in debt, legalization would have a harder time in the Nutmeg State.

“The sad reality is revenue is driving this debate,” Candelora said. “If Connecticut did not have this budget crisis, I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation.”

Government estimates indicate recreational marijuana could generate upward of $30 million in tax revenue for Connecticut in the first year, according to the Connecticut General Assembly’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Countering Candelora, Stafstrom said that, by legalizing and regulating marijuana, the state could reduce negative societal impact.

“You can set the minimum age to purchase, which I suspect will be 21,” said Stafstrom, also an associate attorney with Pullman & Comley in Bridgeport. “You are regulating the age, and you can regulate the potency. You can regulate the hours of sale, and you can regulate the method of ingestion.” Stafstrom said he’d be in favor, if Connecticut OKs recreational use, of some of the revenue being set aside for treatment and prevention programs.

In a statement Monday, the pro-marijuana lobbying group Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, put out a statement on legalization in Massachusetts and urged Connecticut to do the same thing.

“Until cannabis is legalized and regulated, illicit dealers will continue to dominate the market, and Connecticut will miss out on the job creation, tax revenue and other economic benefits that will soon be experienced in neighboring Massachusetts,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the group.

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