The Connecticut Senate Majority Leader is the main sponsor of a bill that would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, which supporters say would save up to $11 million a year in police, court, and jail expenses.
The Connecticut Post reported March 25 that Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said the measure also would generate $320,000 annually in fines, which would replace misdemeanors and arrest as the penalty for possession for small amounts of marijuana.
During a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane argued that current Connecticut law already effectively decriminalizes minor possession of marijuana and disputed Looney’s definition of up to an ounce of marijuana as a “small” amount.
Looney noted that voters in neighboring Massachusetts recently voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and capped fines for violations at $150. Looney said research showed that about a quarter of the 3,200 people arrested for marijuana possession under the current law in Connecticut were carrying less than an ounce of the drug.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill said Looney’s bill seemed to be “codifying current practice” in Connecticut, but others said that marijuana was a “gateway” drug and that decriminalization might benefit drug dealers.
“I don’t think it would necessarily alter consumption patterns,” Looney said. “People are either going to use the substance or not, based upon other factors in their lives, but I think what it would really do, as the people in Massachusetts were persuaded, is it will save the casual user from having a criminal record that will follow him throughout his whole life for something that is I think a very minor offense that is more properly treated as an infraction rather than a criminal violation.”