Marijuana Possession to be Decriminalized in Connecticut

On June 7, 2011, legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession passed the Connecticut General Assembly. The bill narrowly passed in the Senate with a tie-breaking vote from state Senate president and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. After a four-hour debate, the House of Representatives voted 90-57 to decrease the punishment for possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana. The bill will continue on for consideration by Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who has pledged to sign the bill into law.

What Will Change?

The new legislation lowers fines for marijuana possession to $150 for a first offense and $200-500 for later offenses. The bill also states that offenders under 18 years old caught with less than a half-ounce will be referred to the state’s juvenile courts. Additionally, it requires any person who, for a third time, enters a plea of no contest or is found guilty of possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana to be enrolled in a drug education program.

Current state law classifies marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, punishable by a possible jail term and significantly larger fines.

Emphasis on Youth Education Over Penalty

Gov. Malloy states, “Let me be clear – we are not legalizing the use of marijuana…we are recognizing that the punishment should fit the crime.”

According to its supporters, the policy’s goal is to give young people arrested for marijuana possession the opportunity to learn their lesson without the price of a criminal record. Minors who are caught with alcohol face $200-500 fines and a 60-day suspension of driving privileges under Connecticut state law. These short-term penalties for alcohol possession give them the chance to correct illegal behavior without major damage to their futures.

The current misdemeanor classification of marijuana possession is far harsher than that of alcohol possession, and penalties could jeopardize future job opportunities and college admittance for first-time, underage offenders. The new legislation aims to minimize the long-term penalties and put greater emphasis on drug education. If the bill takes effect, people under 21 who are caught with less than half an ounce of marijuana will face comparable fines and the same 60-day license suspension as minors caught with alcohol.

Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloofield, says “Decriminalizing the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana is…in the best interest of young people whose judgment may not be fully matured.”

If you have been cited for possession of marijuana or another illegal substance, contact our criminal defense attorneys today to find out how they can help you with your case. Immediate action by an expert lawyer may change the outcome or penalties of your charges.

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