Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-349

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE PENALTY FOR POSSESSION OF A SMALL AMOUNT OF MARIJUANA.

Vote Date:

3/31/2009

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/24/2009

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

Decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana to an infraction, punishable by a fine, could result in budgetary savings for both the state and municipalities. Decriminalization may be a compassionate policy because it does not impose a criminal record for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Other states that have decriminalized possession of marijuana in various amounts include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and Oregon.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE

1) The amount of cannabis-type substance that constitutes an infraction is reduced from “one ounce” to “half of an ounce” 2) The fine for possession of half of an ounce of cannabis-type substance is set at $250.00 dollars

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, Legal Counsel for the Office of Chief Public Defender, supports this bill.

Division of Criminal Justice, State of Connecticut, opposes this bill. The bill does not reflect the reality of how current laws governing possession of marijuana are applied by our criminal justice system. The vast majority of people charged with simple possession do not go to jail today. As such, this bill would not result in any tremendous reduction in the number of individuals incarcerated for drug violations. In addition, a person who is arrested for a possessory drug offense is eligible for five different diversionary programs under current law.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Senator Martin M. Looney, 111h district, Polling in Connecticut by Quinnipiac University demonstrated that 58% of Connecticut residents favor decriminalization. Decriminalizing less than an ounce of marijuana represents a compassionate and pragmatic policy. The state should not encourage illegal drug use; however, possession of marijuana for personal use should not leave a person with a life-long criminal record. The bill would also create budgetary savings and reduce the cost to police departments, the court system, and the offices of the public defenders and the state's attorneys. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates decriminalization would save $11 million and generate $320,000 in General Fund revenue annually.

Katlin Tyrol, Elan Wischkin, and Allison Footit, students at the University of Connecticut, Amanda Catherine Stauble, Ted Hoffstatter, Robert L. Painter, M.D., Jon Matthews, Legal Director of the ACLU of Connecticut, Erick Williams, Evan Goldstein, Policy Associate for the Drug Policy Alliance and Jason Ortiz, Each expressed that legalizing would prevent people who posses small amount of marijuana from facing arrest and imprisonment, receiving criminal records, losing federal financial aid, and facing other penalties from their schools and/or employers. In addition, decriminalization would remove nonviolent criminal cases from the criminal justice system, resulting in budgetary savings and freeing up resources to address other, more serious crimes. Decriminalization also does not pose a significant impact on increased use or the health and safety of society and represents a change in direction from the failed policies of the war on drugs.

Dominic Vita, Vice President of the Connecticut Chapter National Organization for reform of marijuana laws and Michael Collins, Founder of the Connecticut Chapter National Organization for reform of marijuana laws, Both explained that decriminalization could possibly shield persons using marijuana for medicinal purposes from facing arrest and imprisonment, receiving a criminal record, losing federal financial aid, and facing other penalties from their schools and/or employers.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Senator Toni Boucher, 26th district, Several years I learned the detrimental impact of marijuana after a very emotional and tearful appeal from a mother and father who had found their talented son dead from a drug overdose. Marijuana is a gateway for other drugs, and it was cited by his parents as the real killer of their son. Yale University and the University of Connecticut Medical Society researchers have determined that smoked marijuana causes damages to the brain, heart, immune system, lungs, as well as impairing memory, perception, and judgment. There is now conclusive evidence that smoking marijuana gives you greater exposure to cancerous chemicals than from tobacco. Other studies link marijuana use with the loss of motor skills, increase heart rate, and impairing the ability of the body's T-Cell to fight of infections. The Drug Treatment Centers of Connecticut site that 60% of their admissions are now for marijuana addiction. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's analysis longitudinal of studies on marijuana concluded that use of the drug increased the risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent and that frequent marijuana use doubles a teen's risk for depression and anxiety. In the 1970s, numerous states decriminalized marijuana, and as a result America rose to the highest levels of youth drug use of any civilized nation. This bill would not accomplish the financial savings that the proponents proclaim. The number of less than one ounce marijuana possession cases in Connecticut is not even close to being significant enough to impact the judicial caseload. The cost to our health care system, substance abuse treatment centers, mental health centers, and our foster care system would wipe out any previous savings it may potentially generate at first.

Chief Anthony Salvatore & James Strillacci, Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, the bill moves forward, we request that under the law, law enforcement personnel still retain the right to search a person, place or thing, as presently allowed.

William J. Coupe, and Linda Livingstone, Both had family members who died from a drug overdoses. Marijuana is an addictive stepping stone to more potent and more dangerous drugs.

Joyce Nalepka, President of Drug-Free Kids: America's Challenge, Gail Lavielle, Mark L. Kraus, M.D., Dave Evans from the Drug Free School Coalition, Marijuana is a toxic substance, a gateway to more dangerous drugs, and decriminalizing it would jeopardize health and community safety. Recent studies on the effects of marijuana found that the destructive effects of the drug includes: birth defects, the worsening of pain, lung damage links to cancer, opens the door to Kaposi's sarcoma, brain damage, strokes, immune system damage, mental illness, violence, infertility, and addiction.

Reported by: Joshua Tine

Sarah Kolb

Date: 4/13/09