Gov. Ned Lamont wants to move forward with a regional approach to legalizing marijuana

Gov. Ned Lamont says he is ready to move forward with legalizing recreational marijuana when the legislature reconvenes next year, possibly in a regional approach with other nearby states, but he was less certain if lawmakers would address the issue in an election year.

“I’ve got some work to do with the legislature,” Lamont told reporters during a conference call after a summit with other Northeast governors in New York City Thursday where they talked about crafting regional regulations on recreational marijuana and vaping. “It didn’t go anywhere this last cycle.”

Despite hearings and consideration by various committees for more than three years, the House and Senate have never had enough votes to legalize marijuana. The short, three-month legislative session starts in February and ends in May.

When asked about the chances of recreational marijuana approval next year, Lamont said, "I think I would only consider it if we were doing it in conjunction with other states. If Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania ⁠— if we bring in Massachusetts and coordinate our policies there, rather than being an outlier ⁠— I think it’s something I would push.''

That does not mean Lamont would veto a marijuana bill if other states did not move forward, he said. The states, he noted, are trying to develop model legislation, rather than marching lockstep in an interstate compact.

The discussion on marijuana at the summit covered taxation, roadside testing by police after traffic stops, product testing, advertising and social justice issues in a wide-ranging discussion with public safety and health officials.

After the summit that spanned about five hours, Lamont said there were no final agreements reached. The tentative agreement was “only that we agree on the basic principles,” he said.

Lamont has been working closely on marijuana and vaping with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who hosted the summit at a hotel in midtown Manhattan. The summit was an outgrowth of ongoing talks that included a recent meeting at the Governor’s Residence in Hartford.

Connecticut has had 31 illnesses and one death related to vaping as part of a nationwide outbreak that began in late summer. Across the country, 26 deaths have been reported, along with more than 1,300 hospitalizations, in a growing crisis that has reached 49 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. No single cause of the illnesses has been identified, but health officials have said most of those who got sick reported using products containing marijuana.

After the summit, Lamont said he was struck to learn from a representative from Colorado on the difference in vaping laws in adjacent Utah.

“[In] Utah, where vaping is unregulated, the lung injuries and health effects are eight times worse ... than in Colorado, where it’s carefully regulated,” Lamont said. "So that got my attention.'

New York broke new ground recently by becoming the first state to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker soon after announced that his state would ban the sale of e-cigarettes and other products for four months as the health issues are being investigated. But lawsuits have been filed in both New York and Massachusetts to block the executive actions by the governors.

Before the summit started, Lamont appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” saying it makes no sense for states to operate independently and potentially at odds.

“I think the wrong path is to have every state doing their own thing in an erratic patchwork of different regulations,” he said. “Right now, folks from Connecticut can drive to Massachusetts and buy pot legally — not when they bring it back, though. People from Massachusetts coming into Connecticut — if they are over 21 [they can buy vaping products]. You can’t do that legally in Massachusetts. It’s just a hodgepodge right now. .... Whatever we do, let’s do it on a regional basis. Let’s regulate it and standardize it."

Longtime CNBC co-host Joe Kernen questioned Lamont about marijuana, saying he is still not sure of the wisdom of the idea because he expects that the number of users would increase if recreational marijuana is legalized. But Lamont countered that legal pot is better than illegal.

“Am I a big fan? No," Lamont said of legalization. ”Has the train left the station? I’m afraid it has. You know, it’s legal in Massachusetts, right across our border."

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com.


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