HARTFORD — Two bills proposed to the Connecticut legislature would legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana, bringing the state in line with similar efforts underway throughout New England. Although the bills are short of details, their sponsors hope they will start a new conversation about marijuana, built from the state's decriminalization of marijuana in 2011 and legalization of the drug for medical uses one year later. House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Juan Candelaria, one of the sponsors, said Wednesday that regulating a recreational marijuana industry could drive existing users of the drug from other illegal activity as well as generate state tax income. Mohegans Review Pot As Economic Opportunity "We have done it for medicinal purposes, and we need to have a broader conversation about recreational uses," Candelaria said in an interview. A test balloon of sorts, the bills promise to gauge interest in any legalization effort and to bring the state into a conversation already underway throughout New England. In Vermont, lawmakers are pushing to legalize recreational marijuana. Experts expect ballot measures next year on the drug in Massachusetts and Maine, both states that, unlike Connecticut, can change law by voter referendum. Rhode Island introduced legislation to legalize the recreational use of the drug last year and is expected to reconsider the issue this year. New Hampshire's House of Representatives was the first legislative body in the United States to vote in favor of recreational marijuana in 2014, albeit in a preliminary vote that did not advance. A January report by a market research firm included all of New England among a list of 18 states expected to legalize recreational marijuana by 2020. The report was released by ArcView Market Research, a firm that pairs investors with marijuana-related businesses. To marijuana policy experts like Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project, the move from voter-led initiatives of the sort that legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in Colorado and Oregon to legislative conversations shows that the issue is no longer as politically toxic as it was once seen by lawmakers. "A lot of elected officials are still very gun-shy, but that is thawing," said Lindsey, a policy analyst for the nonprofit marijuana policy reform group, who follows developments in Connecticut. "Even Republicans are talking about taxing marijuana, and it does not hurt them." One of the Connecticut bills introduced Feb. 2 by Candelaria, HB 6703, proposes to allow people 21 and older to use marijuana and require the state to regulate the drug's sale, possession, use and growth. Details of the second bill, HB 6473, introduced Jan. 23 by Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, read much the same. Legalizing recreational marijuana, Vargas said, "could go a long way to help our economy" and provide a small answer to the state's budget deficit. "I think the time is right." Recent polls show that Connecticut voters are split on allowing possession of marijuana for recreational purposes. Asked in May about recreational use of the drug, 52 percent of the state's voters said they support allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Voters under 30, however, supported the measure, 80 percent to 20 percent. The poll, run by Quinnipiac University and calculated with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, also reported that 52 percent of voters said they had tried the drug. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who in a September debate admitted that he once smoked marijuana, said in the same event that he opposes the drug's legalization for recreational purposes. Malloy spokesman Mark Bergman said Wednesday that the governor believes that there is a need to reform laws about drug possession and to provide second chances for nonviolent offenders, but that a program for recreational marijuana — similar to the medical marijuana program that the governor approved three years ago — is unlikely to be approved. "Clearly it is not something he has been supportive of," Bergman said. He added that although a wide range of legislation could emerge on the discussion, "we will see what comes out of that process before we come to a determination." On the issue of the General Assembly, sponsors of both bills are clear-eyed, although optimistic. Vargas said, "For the most part, people support it. I'm not sure they think that politically it would fly yet, but privately everyone seems to agree with it. I'm not sure people will have the courage to do that on the record." He said that if the bill doesn't pass this session, it's likely to come back in the next session. To Candelaria, the fact that the drug is being bought and sold already is a strong argument that it should be regulated and taxed to the state's benefit. "We need to start looking outside the box," he said. "Are there concerns? There are concerns," he said. "For us in Connecticut, we need to move forward. We can set an example for other states, and I think we will be moving in the right direction."