Garrett Kirk ’24
As of April 2021, over a dozen states have fully legalized the recreational use of cannabis. While Connecticut has decriminalized the drug, the legislature has not yet fully legalized it for recreational use like states such as Washington, California, Nevada, and recently New York, have. The Tripod sat down with Connecticut House Majority Leader and Trinity College Chief of Staff to the President, Associate Vice President for External Affairs Jason Rojas to discuss the possible impact of Connecticut legalizing cannabis.
Rojas told the Tripod that he sees there being benefits for the Hartford community if cannabis is legalized, saying for example, that he thinks “if anything it will provide some form of equity or justice,” as the legal repercussions differ drastically for a Trinity student that is caught with cannabis compared to a Hartford resident who lives a few streets over.
Cannabis’ legalization could also provide further equity in the economic realm, as this would lead to new job opportunities in the cannabis industry that were not previously available, Rojas added. Rojas additionally advocates for reinvesting the tax revenue back into communities and programs, emphasizing to the Tripod that the discussion has not been centered about whether to give this money back, but where and how to invest the money.
In the bill that was recently voted out of the Judiciary Committee, proposals for tax revenue include a variety of investment strategies, including adult education in the correction system to help prepare inmates for life after prison, local non-profit organizations that serve under resourced neighborhoods such as Frog Hollow, as well as counseling services and rehabilitation programs.
Rojas additionally discussed using the tax dollars derived from possible cannabis sales to provide low interest grants or loans to prospective small business operators. This practice would also keep the cannabis industry from becoming corporatized, and “ensure those most impacted by the war on drugs are going to be able to benefit from what is a new market and industry as we have seen in the other states that have legalized adult use of cannabis.”
Legalizing cannabis could even provide employment for Trinity students, as there are a variety of ancillary jobs (accounting, legal, marketing or operation of retail establishments) that come with the legalization of this substance. Rojas says that if Trinity students were to be interested in entering this market that he “imagines they will be able to.”
Despite the potential job prospects for students, Rojas does not see it changing the rules of the College in any major way, as Trinity must adhere to the Drug Free Schools and Community Act in order to continue receiving federal funding.
While there is great public interest in Connecticut legalizing cannabis, Rojas doesn’t think the bill will lead to a major increase in drug use throughout the state. According to Rojas, data from states that have legalized the drug show an initial spike in consumption, but that numbers eventually return back near where they initially were.
Although the legalization of cannabis could be potentially beneficial for the state, Rojas and his colleagues recognize the possible downsides of doing so.
One concern is the effect the bill would have on road safety, as it is more difficult for police to evaluate whether a person is high than drunk. The question arose whether citizens would be more likely to drive while under the influence if the substance were legalized, and this is an issue Rojas says he and his colleagues are still considering.
Another worry expressed is the idea that legalization could have a disproportionate impact on young people. Rojas noted that “there is a concern similar to alcohol,” as underage college students could potentially buy cannabis from peers who legally obtained the drug.
A third concern mentioned is the fact that “Younger people and older people struggle with knowing how much edibles to consume,” because they may not truly realize how much of the drug they have consumed until after the fact, which could potentially lead to accidental overdoses.
While there are serious arguments to be made for both sides of the issue, legalization will only move as far as the state legislature allows it to. At the moment, Rojas says that the state is “Closer than we’ve ever been to legalization,” although there still may not be enough votes to change public policy just yet. There are “15 or 16 hard no’s” that don’t provide a wide margin for passage given there are 97 Democrats in the House leaving a 5 or 6 vote margin for passage (76 votes are needed to pass legislation), plus the Senate needing to pass it as well. But as public opinion continues to progress, legalization may very well be on the horizon.