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Not legal enough: Activists call for more freedom in Connecticut cannabis laws

Ivelisse Correa was a freshman in high school when her father was imprisoned for three and half years on a marijuana charge. Now she is part of a group that has been actively protesting outside the Capitol every week calling for Connecticut’s cannabis law to be reformed and for the gifting of marijuana products to remain legal.

“It didn’t seem right that the State of Connecticut wants to pay their bills using marijuana when they sent my dad to jail simply for consuming it,” Correa said. “I have family members who have been arrested for selling marijuana, clearly, they were ahead of their time. It’s not to say they weren’t breaking the law, it’s that the law had not caught up to what we know scientifically.”

Christina Capitan spoke on behalf of the CannaWarriors, a group who has set up outside the Capitol building every Wednesday waving marijuana flags and handing out free joints.

Ivelisse Correa Credit: Marc Fitch / CT Inside Investigator

The group is calling on lawmakers to strike down a bill that would ban the gifting of marijuana, another bill that would increase the acceptable levels of mold on medical marijuana plants, dismissal and erasure of all criminal records related to marijuana and getting rid of the red tape and lotteries associated with gaining a social equity cannabis license in Connecticut.

“The Connecticut CannaWarriors implore Connecticut state leaders and lawmakers to hear these demands and take serious action now to protect our community” Capitan said during a press conference. “Should these demands not be addressed in an attempt to remedy these issues Connecticut cannabis users are facing, we are prepared to begin the rollout of a full-scale boycott of all multi-state operators in the state of Connecticut.”

A bill passed by the General Law Committee and awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives would restrict how and when an individual could gift cannabis to someone else.

Under the terms of the bill, cannabis could not be gifted in exchange for any kind of donation or admission to an event, at any location other than an approved cannabis retailer or as part of a door prize in association with another event. It would also restrict how marijuana can be advertised in public venues such as the billboards that line I-84 advertising retail shops in Massachusetts.

Christina Capitan of CannaWarriors speaks outside the Capitol Credit: Marc Fitch / CT Inside Investigator

However, the bill does allow gifting between persons with “a bona fide social relationship,” provided the transaction is “not associated with a commercial transaction.” Violations could be punished with fines of up to $2,500 per offense, as well as municipal fines.

House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, submitted testimony in support of the bill, arguing that it fills in a gap in current state law and fails to protect minors from “exposure to offensive, harmful, and illegal content.”

“The Department of Consumer Protection, charged with administering the rollout of recreational cannabis, has no jurisdiction over events where vendors, selling cannabis paraphanelia and other related products, provide free samples of ingestible cannabis to potential customers without the required licenses established by law.”

The restriction on gifting came after events called High Bazaars began to take place after Connecticut legalized recreational marijuana. At the events, cannabis products would be “gifted,” rather than sold, using a perceived loophole in Connecticut state law. However, the Bazaars came under legal and zoning fire, requiring them to change locations and prompting the pending legislation.

The CannaWarriors also want to do away with some of the restrictions on gaining a retail cannabis license. Currently, a social equity applicant must submit to a lottery for a limited number of licenses, a restriction activist feel is hindering their access to a retail space they know well.

“There is a country-wide mishandling of cannabis,” the CannaWarriors wrote in a press release. “Citizens are still being targeted and criminalized for a legal plant. Meanwhile, states allow corporate monopolization of cannabis, rather than providing reparations for the war on drugs and uplifting the communities it harmed.”

“Right now, [lawmakers] are working very hard to gentrify the marijuana market,” Correa said. “I feel like I would be the perfect social equity applicant, but I’m locked out because I don’t want to take that kind of financial risk. If it were a guaranteed license, if there was a guaranteed path, I would have no problem investing my money, but the State of Connecticut is asking me to gamble.”

“Every weed dealer I know would be more than happy to get a license and pay taxes,” Correa said.

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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