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Cannabis enthusiasts celebrate first 4/20 since CT legalized recreational sales

Marijuana enthusiasts gathered across Connecticut on Thursday to celebrate the first 4/20 since recreational sales were made legal in the state.

On the state Capitol lawn in Hartford, people at a morning rally said despite the legalization victory, there’s still more work to be done in the General Assembly.

“Free our people. All people serving time or facing charges for non-violent cannabis offenses, regardless of intent or quantity, should be freed now. We cannot wait any longer,” said Christina Capitan, an East Windsor resident and leader of the advocacy group CT CannaWarriors, who wants more past marijuana-related convictions vacated in Connecticut.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced last December that nearly 44,000 low-level cannabis-related criminal recordswould be fully or partially erased as part of a new “clean slate” law that coincided with the beginning of legal, adult-use recreational cannabis sales.

While recreational sales became legal in January, cannabis use for those 21 and older was legalized in Connecticut in 2021.

“It feels so great now to look back on this and remember all the times when four people in one car would go to jail for one joint in the car,” said Terry Hopper, a medical marijuana patient from Hamden. “It’s just absurd. … When there’s problems like homelessness, and there’s problems like gun violence. There’s so many things that we could be working on.”

The 4/20 rally drew several dozen people to the Capitol lawn, many flying flags with marijuana leaves and lighting up bongs and joints.

"Free our people, and let our people grow" said Christina Capitan (right) of CT CannaWarriors. The group gathered at the capital building to call for additional legal reform around cannabis, including retroactive sentence modifications for non-violent cannabis offenders incarcerated by the state and greater freedom for home growers.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
"Free our people, and let our people grow" said Christina Capitan (right) of CT CannaWarriors. The group gathered at the capital building to call for additional legal reform around cannabis, including retroactive sentence modifications for non-violent cannabis offenders incarcerated by the state and greater freedom for home growers.

Erin Doolittle, a therapist and medical marijuana patient from Manchester, was among those who showed up.

“This is my absolute favorite place to smoke a joint, is the beautiful lawn of our gorgeous Capitol. It feels definitely surreal,” Doolittle said. “I grew up in the ‘90s, I’m a ‘90s kid, so prohibition was heavy back then. I definitely was not OK with cannabis. I definitely was very judgmental. I held and believed those stigmas I had been taught. And the thing that changed for me was becoming a medical patient and then I had to apologize to a lot of people and say, ‘I’m really sorry. I didn’t know.’”

Between tricks on his skateboard, Alexy Patterson of Manchester lit a joint to celebrate “the weed holiday – the best holiday!”

“I’ve always wondered, like: What’s the difference between having a joint at the end of your day and having a glass of wine?” Patterson said. “I don’t know why there has to be that whole stigma about it.”

Alexy Patterson has a smoke on the lawn of the Connecticut Capital Building on the first 4/20 since recreational cannabis was legalized in the state.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Alexy Patterson has a smoke on the lawn of the Connecticut Capital Building on the first 4/20 since recreational cannabis was legalized in the state.

At Heaven Skate Park in downtown Hartford later in the afternoon, the third annual 4/20 After Work Cookoutdrew DJs, artists, performers, skaters, activists and more.

“Weed brings out a positive energy,” said organizer Abimbola “King” Oretade, president of Hartford’s Black Lives Matter 860, giving a tour of vendors selling wares like clothes, drug-inspired art, weed-infused food and drink, and marijuana itself.

“It feels great” that cannabis is fully legal, he said.

“It was like, ‘Damn, now I actually don’t have to look over my shoulder when I’m burning my spliff,’” Oretade said.

Michael Oretade, King’s younger brother and a board member of the nonprofit coalition Connecticut Equity Now, highlighted the racist history of the criminalization and stigmatization of marijuana in America.

“Think about it: the history of oppression in our country, systemic racism – cannabis plays a huge role in that,” the younger Oretade said.

“It was used to criminalize Black and brown people because we use the drug,” he said. “Now we’re actually at a turning point. We’re hitting that hard reset where we’re realizing this drug was never an issue, it was never supposed to be anything that anyone feared.”

“And now that everyone’s doing it, it’s changed the narrative,” he said. “I think that we’ve done something amazing.”

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.