Update, 5:15 p.m.
The Connecticut House of Representatives voted 90-57 Tuesday afternoon to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a crime to an infraction that carries the penalty of a fine.
The Senate has already approved the legislation, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy must sign the bill before it can become law
Malloy indicated in a statement released soon after the vote that he supported the bill and intended to sign it.
“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," Malloy said.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s interest in decriminalizing marijuana is rooted — at least in part — in his son’s 2007 arrest for possession and distribution of marijuana, one of Connecticut’s leading anti-pot legislators told Patch Monday.
Saying it undermines the anti-drug messages taught to children and causes severe health problems, state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Bethel, slammed the marijuana decriminalization bill .
After the senate split the vote 18-18, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman cast the tiebreaking vote in the bill's favor. As she cast the tiebreaking vote, Boucher said, Wyman was acting on behalf of Malloy's administration.
“Malloy is promoting this bill," she said. "One of his sons has had serious problems with drugs. [The governor] has a personal interest in this."
Malloy declined to comment.
In November 2007, one of Malloy’s sons, Benjamin, was charged with selling marijuana. At that time, he was given five years’ probation, with three years of jail suspended, according to the Connecticut Department of Justice. In 2009, he was arrested again, this time allegedly attempting to rob a Darien man at gunpoint to steal his marijuana. He was again given five years’ probation, with 10 years of jail suspended, according to the DOJ.
If the bill — Senate Bill 1014 — passes the House and is signed into law by Malloy, as Boucher expects, those caught with less than one half-ounce of marijuana (roughly 14 grams) would face a fine of $150 for their first offense. Subsequent offenses would carry with them fines ranging from $200 to $500, Boucher said.
Currently, first-time possession of less than four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor in Connecticut, punishable by up to a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in prison, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or "NORML." A second offense of less than four ounces is a felony, punishable by up to a fine of $3,000 and up to five years in prison.
Asked whether nonviolent marijuana users are punished fairly under current laws, Boucher said that those arrested for simple possession often do not get convicted.
“They do not prosecute for simple possession,” Boucher said, adding that convictions for possession are often the result of “pleading down” in cases where, for example, perpetrators are nabbed for burglary or arrested with weapons and choose to plead guilty for lesser punishments.
If the bill becomes law, Connecticut would become the 14th state to have decriminalized marijuana, according to NORML.
Boucher said that this bill is a step towards the outright legalization of marijuana.
“The groups promoting these bills have stated so — the ultimate design is for full legalization,” she said. Boucher represents Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton in the legislature.
Boucher said that if the bill has any silver lining, it’s in the amendments attached to it: If an individual is caught with marijuana under the age of 21, his or her driver’s license would be suspended for 60 days, and if caught for a third time with marijuana, the offender must enter a drug treatment program at his or her own expense.
Despite those amendments, “I still didn’t support it,” Boucher said, adding that no Republican state senators did either. According to the General Assembly’s website, neither did four Democratic Senators: Joan Hartley (D-15), Edward Meyer (D-12), Gayle Slossberg (D-14) and Paul Doyle (D-9).
Boucher, who lives in Wilton and has been and other drugs for more than a decade, said she got involved with the issue after talking to other Wilton parents as well as a variety of people who work in drug treatment facilities, medical centers and police departments — “people that have to deal with the after-effects” of the drug, she said.
“One joint is equal to five cigarettes,” Boucher said. “The potency of the THC in the drug as well as the plant itself has been engineered, unfortunately, to be more potent — 10 to 100 times more potent [which] increases dependency.” The increased potency is desirable for growers and sellers “because it’s such a lucrative business.”
Marijuana harms the lungs, brain, heart and reproductive organs, Boucher said.
Marijuana “is not the benign drug it used to be in the '60s and '70s.” Because of the increased potency, “sole marijuana addiction accounts for more than 50 percent” of the patients at drug treatment centers, she said.
Boucher said there’d been a recent trend of a reduction in marijuana use. But use has “gone higher in states that have legalized pot or have medical pot.”
After she spoke on the capitol’s floor on Saturday, Boucher said an elderly gentleman who worked in the building approached her, teary, and gave her a hug. The man told her his son's life fell apart because of drug addiction. Boucher said the man thanked her for speaking up on the issue.
“[The man said], ‘A lot of us are afraid of speaking up about this,' — that it was a gateway drug,” Boucher said. “After you use it for awhile, those that don’t stop, they become more tolerant. They need to use heavier drugs for a similar effect.”
Boucher said marijuana use “in many cases [does] produce certain psychological disorders,” up to and including schizophrenia. These types of ailments are fiscally damaging to society, as those patients need to be on medication.
Asked what are her sources of information on the drug and its effects, Boucher responded: “I have 254 sources." She cited Harvard Medical School and the Center for Disease Control, as well as studies from America, England and Australia. “The other side has a group of people who specifically work at disputing anything negative about the claims."