March 23, 2009




Michael Murphy


Alan Calandro

Christopher Wetzel



Fiscal impact of reducing the penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana

You asked us to assess the fiscal impact of decriminalizing possession of less than 1 ounce of a cannabis-type substance. Under current law, such a violation is designated as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $ 1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 1 year. The bill reclassifies these offenses as infractions, which are punishable by fines of $ 59 - $ 121. 1

Based on a proportionate analysis of resources currently allocated to handle these offenses, it is estimated that the proposal could save up to $ 11 million and generate $ 320,000 in General Fund revenue annually. See below for details.

Courts and Probation

The Superior Court handles approximately 3,200 cases each year under CGS 21a-279(c) exclusively. Assuming that possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana accounts for of these cases, then the annual cost to process them is estimated to be $ 400,000, including the salaries of 1 Public Defender, 2 State's Attorneys, a portion of 1 Judge and support staff, expenses and fringe benefits.

Approximately 1,300 probationers2 are under supervision in the community with possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana as their primary charge. Assuming that possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana accounts for of these individuals, the estimated, annual cost to supervise these offenders in the community is $ 424,000, including probation officer salaries, fringe benefits, expenses and contracted services.


There are currently 57 inmates serving a sentence where the controlling charge is CGS 21a-279(c) (possession of less than four ounces of marijuana). In addition 17 offenders are being held pretrial. Assuming that possession of less than one ounce of marijuana accounts for of these individuals, and assuming an average cost of $ 44,895 per year per inmate (including employee fringe benefit costs) the resulting savings would be $ 831,000 per year.


There were 9,928 marijuana arrests in Connecticut in 2007, which represents 7. 0% of total arrests statewide. Based on prior research findings, it is estimated that approximately 33% of those arrests were for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. This results in an estimated 2. 3% of total law enforcement resources statewide that are currently allocated to these cases.

Based on the above, the theoretical savings to state and local law enforcement agencies is estimated to be $ 9. 4 million, resulting from savings associated with police officers no longer having to process arrests for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. This total represents an estimate of the proportional amount of law enforcement operating expenditures associated with possession of less than one ounce of marijuana only. As a result, savings in this amount may not be realized by state and local law enforcement budgets due to the fact that resources would most likely be reallocated, rather than eliminated.

It should be noted that law enforcement is involved in a broader range of activities than arrests alone. Therefore, the savings described here would be lower based on the actual proportional distribution of police resources.

Revenue from Fines

It is anticipated that reclassifying these offenses as infractions would greatly increase the frequency with which fines are imposed and result in a net revenue gain to the General Fund. Based on the total number of offenses that occur under current law, it is estimated that this reclassification could yield up to $ 320,000 in additional General Fund revenue each year.  


This offense currently lies within CGS 21a-279(c) along with the other following offenses: (1) possession of 1 to 4 ounces of marijuana; and (2) possession of up to 4 ounces of either hallucinogenic or controlled (excluding narcotic) substances. This comingling of statutory offenses makes them indistinguishable upon review of criminal justice statistics (which are collected and tabulated by statute). Due to this data limitation, the fiscal estimates indicated above are based on an analysis of CGS 21a-279(c) in its entirety with certain assumptions regarding the proportion of offenses involving possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

Sources: Quarterly Disposition by Statute File from the Judicial Department's Criminal/Motor Vehicle System; National Center for State Courts 2002 Minnesota Workload Assessment; 2008 Annual Report of the Chief Public Defender; Case Management Information System (CMIS) of the Court Support Services Division; Connecticut Department of Public Safety; Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Harvard University Study

1 In accordance with CGS 51-164m, Judges establish a schedule of fines for any/all violations deemed to be infractions; no fine may be less than $ 35 or more than $ 90. In addition to this fine, a fee of $ 4-$ 11 would be added in accordance with CGS 51-56a(c) and a cost of $ 20 would be added pursuant to CGS 54-143a. Revenue from these surcharges would be deposited into the General Fund along with revenue from the base fine.

2 Approximately 1/3 of these offenders are under an administrative form of probation, which does not require ongoing contact with probation officers or contract services (and therefore is much less costly).