A piece of legislation that would lessen the penalties for being caught with a small amount of marijuana (less than half an ounce) has now cleared the CT Senate and House and is headed to the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has publicly expressed his support for the revised law.
The House vote this afternoon (June 7) was 90-57 in favor.
Under the new law, possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana would result in a $100 fine for the first offense and $200 to $500 for the second.
The new law also calls for anyone under age 21 caught with less than half an ounce of marijuana to lose their license for 150 days, and minors will be referred to the juvenile court system.
The change in the law is meant to reduce the burden on the courts for trying such cases and to keep what supporters consider a minor lapse in judgment from giving a young person a criminal record.
Opponents have said that decriminalizing marijuana at any level will encourage young people to try it, and that this can serve as the “gateway” to abusing other drugs.
Some research, however, has found that alcohol, not marijuana, is the drug that opens the door to other abuse and that there’s a much more serious problem with young people beginning what might become a life of addiction with prescription drugs found in the medicine cabinets of their own homes.
According to a story posted today in Capitol Watch (see link, below) in 2009 in Connecticut there were 9,290 marijuana arrests of persons 18 and older. Of these, 75 percent were for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.
The Capitol Watch story cites the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis which estimates the state could save $885,000 each year in prosecutor and public defender salaries as well as court costs while also collecting up to $1.4 million (net) annually in fines and fees.
Following the House vote, Gov. Malloy released the following statement:
“Final approval of this legislation accepts the reality that the current law does more harm than good – both in the impact it has on people’s lives and the burden it places on police, prosecutors and probation officers of the criminal justice system.
“Let me make it clear – we are not legalizing the use of marijuana. In modifying this law, we are recognizing that the punishment should fit the crime, and acknowledging the effects of its application. There is no question that the state’s criminal justice resources could be more effectively utilized for convicting, incarcerating and supervising violent and more serious offenders.
“Modification of this law will now put Connecticut in line with the laws of two of our neighboring states, New York and Massachusetts, and a total of thirteen states across the country with similar statutes. I applaud the General Assembly in their passage of this legislation and will sign it into law. I would also like to specifically thank State Senator Martin Looney, who first introduced this legislation in 2009, for his support and advocacy of this issue.”
Posted June 7, 2011
HTNP.com “CT Lt Gov Wyman casts tie-breaking vote to decriminalize marijuana”
CT News Junkie, “House sends marijuana bill to governor”
Capitol Watch, “House begins debate on marijuana bill” http://blogs.courant.com/capitol_watch/2011/06/house-begins-debate-on-marijua.html
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