Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-1014

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE PENALTY FOR CERTAIN NONVIOLENT DRUG OFFENSES.

Vote Date:

4/12/2011

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/14/2011

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Governor's Bill

REASONS FOR BILL:

The Governor's bill is aimed at decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana to an infraction, punishable by a fine. Decriminalization could result in budgetary savings for the state and municipalities. In addition, decriminalization may be a compassionate policy because it does not impose a criminal record for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE:

The language of the amended substitute aims to: 1) Reduce the amount of marijuana that constitutes an infraction from “one ounce” to “half of an ounce”. 2) Establish that a first offense for a possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana would constitute an infraction and be subject to a fine no less than two hundred dollars and no more than five hundred dollars for a second or subsequent offense. 3) Require the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend a driver's license of any person under the age of twenty one for a period of 150 days who is found in possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana. 4) Clarifies that police officer testimony in a trial of a person for the alleged possession of marijuana would be sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction of such person for such violation, unless contradicted by other evidence.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Mike Lawlor, Under Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Criminal Justice Policy & Planning Division: Supports the bill. The proposal would provide law enforcement with a cost-effective tool when dealing with low-level drug offenders. This change in law would make Connecticut consistent with its two neighboring states: New York and Massachusetts, and would provide a significant impact on law enforcement and court resources. In 2009 the legislature's Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that there were 8,118 arrests statewide for possession of marijuana. The office of Adult Probation supervised 1,090 probationers for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. There is no question that these resources could have been more effectively utilized for convicting, incarcerating and supervising violent and more serious offenders.

Acting Commissioner Colonel Danny R. Stebbins, Department of Public Safety: Supports the bill. The proposal would result in savings throughout the criminal justice system through reduced paperwork and staff time for police, prosecutors and the courts. At a time when the state is backlogged in processing convicted offender DNA samples and on the cusp of losing nine talented scientists whose federal funding is running out in June, it is time to take a hard look at how we are spending available criminal justice dollars. The Department believes that it is not good public policy to be spending millions on non-violent minor drug possession cases while we are failing to fund the greatest criminal justice tool available to get violent murderers and rapists off the streets.

Division of Public Defender Services, State of Connecticut: Supports the bill. Section 1 of the bill would provide that a person is guilty of an infraction if he/she possesses a small amount, less than 1 ounce, of marijuana, a person can be fined. Section 2 of the bill does not eliminate the penalties for persons charged with possession of greater amounts of marijuana. Section 3 provides that a person is guilty of an infraction if he/she violates C.G.S 21-267 (a), only as it is related to less than one ounce of marijuana. A person can still be charged with a C misdemeanor for which a person can be imprisoned up to 90 days for paraphernalia related to the use of delivery of controlled substance.

Division of Criminal Justice, State of Connecticut: Opposes the bill. While the bill is before the Committee with the best of intentions, it would not achieve the intended results and would have serious ramifications in terms of practical implementation. Making the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana an infraction punishable by a fine payable by mail would eliminate entirely the ability of the system to refer the offender for treatment or counseling. In addition, it will result in little, if any, savings to police department and the court system.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Senator Martin M. Looney, 11th District: The proposal represents a compassionate and pragmatic policy. The state should not encourage illegal drug possession and use; however, possession of small amounts of illicit substances and related paraphernalia for personal use should not leave a person with a life-long criminal record. In addition, the bill would create budgetary savings in these challenging times since it would reduce costs to police departments, the court system and the offices of the public defenders and the states' attorneys.

John Lorenzo, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition: Decriminalizing marijuana is a strong step in the right direction. The less time that we as law enforcement spend arresting and prosecuting marijuana users, the more time we can spend keeping our streets safe from violent crime. The proposal is a well-developed bill that maintains society's disapproval of drug use by continuing a civil infraction, but also find that the benefits of establishing a civil infraction for its possession far outweighs the benefits of criminal treatment of marijuana possession. This finding is consistent with my many decades of experience in law enforcement.

Karen Frame: I have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and have used marijuana off and on for almost forty years to relieve the symptoms. Marijuana should be legal and taxable, like alcohol; just another business that will improve the governments' bottom line. A black and white attitude towards marijuana and alcohol doesn't work; there are too many shades of grey in the real world.

Scott Gabriel: In October of 2009, my friend and I were experimenting with marijuana in Manchester, Connecticut, when we got arrested. This has had a great impact on my life, financially and emotionally. I feel as though it is wrong for kids like me who experiment with a drug that has been proven over time not to have killed anyone or be addicting in any way, to be arrested and branded as felons.

Sarah Diamond, PhD: As a public health researcher studying substance use in Greater Hartford for the past 10 years, I have seen first hand the harm caused by our current drug policies on individuals and entire communities. The health hazards of marijuana use are not nearly as devastating to people's lives as the punishments we inflict upon those who use marijuana. Not only are these punishments morally and ethically unjust, they are also costing the State of CT and its taxpayers ridiculous sums of money.

Sam Tracy: As an elected member of Uconn's Undergraduate Student Government, I took it upon myself to see where the student body stood on the issue of marijuana decriminalization. Some of my fellow students and I took informal polls in our Student Union, where we received overwhelming support for the concept, getting hundreds upon hundreds of signatures on a petition to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession.

Steven Purdy: The physical and mental effects of marijuana use are over exaggerated.

Leslie Prager: Marijuana users are not violent criminals and do not pose a threat to the citizens of Connecticut. The criminal penalty for personal marijuana unfairly imposes a significant and permanent impact that jeopardizes the individual's ability to have a productive life. Students desperate for a college education are unable to receive federal financial aid to go to school and many are discriminated against in obtaining jobs.

Erik Williams, Executive Director, CT NORML: I support the reprioritization of precious public safety and law enforcement dollars towards fighting violent crimes and crimes against property.

Daniel Malo: Recreationally, cannabis is safe and not the “gateway drug” it is purported to be by its opponents.

Jason Ortiz: The current criminal justice model is incredibly damaging to our youth. We must shift away from a criminal justice approach to drug use and towards a harm reduction and honest education framework.

Paul Armentano, Deputy Director, NORML: Most adult marijuana users act responsibly and consume marijuana solely within the privacy of their own homes. They are not part of the crime problem and they should not be treated like serious criminals.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Senator Toni Boucher, 26th District: I became involved in opposing legalizing marijuana several years ago after deeply painful appeals from local parents who lost their young children from drug use. The claim that marijuana decriminalization will do no harm or reduce costs does not consider the various health risks that marijuana creates. Marijuana use has been shown to cause addiction, permanent memory loss, distorted perception, depression, psychosis and other severe long term psychological disorders. Cannabis use was a statistically significant predictor of later depression, (University of Colorado study involving 20,000 individuals over a 14 year period) and significantly “increased the risk of any psychotic outcomes in individuals” (2007 Lancet study). Correlation between marijuana use and mental illness remained even when other factors such as socioeconomic status, and the abuse of other drugs and alcohol had been taken into account in various studies. The British Medical Journal warned that using cannabis once or twice a week doubled the risk of developing psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia later in life.

Eric A. Voth, M.D., FACP., Chairman, The Institute on Global Drug Policy: Legislative actions giving access to marijuana seriously jeopardize consumer protection.

Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association (NEOA): The CT-NEOA disapproves – in the strongest possible terms – of all efforts to decriminalize, legalize, or to “medicalize” herbal cannabis or smoked marijuana – at the local, state, and Federal levels. Legalizing chemically addictive drug substances is not the right thing to do, from any side – be it a criminal justice position, health-care approach or social perspective.

Susie Dugan, Pride-Omaha, Inc., Drug Watch International: Full legalization of marijuana would be disastrous because it would make marijuana so available and so normal for so many people, including children.

The Freestyle Foundation, Coalition For A Drug Free California: One ounce of pot equals to 60-120 joints. A fine of $35 to $90 isn't even the equivalent of a parking ticket in most states, and it will certainly encourage trafficking in marijuana.

Bertha K. Madras, PhD: Legalizing marijuana reflects an indifference to Public Health.

Ginger Katz, Courage to Speak Foundation: SB 1014, if passed, would give children mixed messages about the damages marijuana does to a young person as well as an adult. Leniency in this matter will increase use and in the long run will cost Connecticut more

money.

Ronni McLaughlin: My son started smoking when he was 14 years old and then went on to cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and finally after priding himself on doing anything but heroin, gave in to that drug as well. Marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to heroin which very likely leads to the end of life. Besides being a gateway drug, marijuana affects many parts of the brain and I have seen with my children that it can make one unmotivated to do anything.

Calvina Fay, Executive Director, Save Our Society From Drugs: Now is not the time for Connecticut to take a hands-off approach to marijuana use. According to the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey, there was a significant increase in daily marijuana use in 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Without the involvement of the legal system, assessments and intervention may not be available, potentially trapping Connection's youth in the cycle of addiction, especially for our most disadvantaged youth who could not afford treatment otherwise.

NEUTRAL SOURCES:

Chiefs Anthony Salvatore & James Strillacci, Connecticut Police Chiefs Association: We understand the rationale behind the proposal. We don't want our judicial and penal systems overloaded by minor possession cases. We would like to request that the Committee add language clarifying that despite its infraction status, simple possession constitutes grounds for a search.

Reported by: Alex Tsarkov

Date: 04/19/11