By CHRIS POWELL
With Connecticut sure to struggle with the virus epidemic for many more months and state government sinking deeper into the financial disaster caused by the epidemic and government's response to it, it is amazing that the most urgent objective of the enlarged Democratic majority in the General Assembly is to legalize marijuana.
It's another trivial distraction for legislators, like the renewed campaign of state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, to compel schools to teach American Indian history when they can't even manage to teach the language students are supposed to learn everything in.
Why the urgency about marijuana?
The drug is already effectively legal in Connecticut when federal agents are not around. In recent years state law on marijuana has been dramatically weakened and police and courts hardly bother with such cases anymore.
Do Democratic state representatives want to increase access to marijuana to give weary people relief from their joyless lives under epidemic restrictions? Anticipating the catastrophe of the next state budget, do Democratic state representatives themselves want to get stoned on the House floor? Are they already high? Or do they just want to realize the bonanza in tax revenue they imagine from legal marijuana sales?
The incoming House speaker, Rep. Matt Ritter of Hartford, says he doesn't care about the money. But even if he really doesn't, other legislators do.
Indeed, if the legislation to legalize marijuana doesn't put a hefty tax on sales, there is little point to it and it probably won't pass. For without the new tax revenue to spend, few legislators would take the principled libertarian position to let people do as they please with themselves. If there were many principled libertarians in the House Democratic caucus, the House already would have voted to legalize not just marijuana but all popular hallucinogens as well as prostitution and casinos operated by people who don't claim to be distantly related to two of the many Indian tribes that inhabited the state centuries ago.
House Democratic leaders see the marijuana legislation as providing not just tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year but also ethnic patronage, if not quite as grand as the ethnic patronage of the Indian casinos. The legalization idea includes an "equity commission" to ensure that "communities" in which drug law violations, convictions, and imprisonments have been greatest will receive, as reparations for their lawbreaking, favoritism in obtaining licenses for retailing marijuana. (Of course these "communities," long impoverished by pernicious welfare and education policies, are heavily Democratic.)
What will people who declined to break drug laws get from the legislation of the House Democrats? If they express doubts about it they'll be lucky not to be called racist.
Yes, drug criminalization has been a disastrous failure, possibly ruining more lives than illegal drugs themselves. Reparations are necessary and just. But such reparations should restore the victims of the "war on drugs" with education, rudimentary jobs, training, and basic housing for a limited time, not with the opportunity to profit along with state government by increasing the risk of turning others into zombies and addicts.
Repealing Connecticut's marijuana laws is one thing. Putting state government into partnership with marijuana retailers is another. For right or wrong, federal law continues to criminalize marijuana and classify it with the most dangerous and addictive drugs.
No state is obliged to match federal law in every respect, but for Connecticut to license and profit from the marijuana business would be nullification of federal law, as state government and some municipal governments are already nullifying federal immigration law. Defaulting on his obligations under the Constitution, which requires the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," President Obama told the Justice Department to stop marijuana law enforcement in states that didn't want it, and President Trump has defaulted too.
President-elect Biden will probably neglect his obligations in this respect as well, but some future president may have more integrity. So until state and federal law can be reconciled, Connecticut should not go beyond repealing its criminal law on marijuana. That means simple indifference - no licensing and no taxing.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.