Malloy Expected to Sign Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Jun 8, 2011

A marijuana decriminalization bill is headed to the Governor's desk.  As WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil reports, the state Legislature approved a measure where adults will face a fine instead of jail time for possessing a half-ounce or less of pot.

The state House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The morning after the vote, the bill was the topic of morning radio chatter. One local deejay on an alternative rock station made a point to share the news with "all of the stoners and tokers in Connecticut" before playing some Bob Marley. But celebrating the fact that adults who are caught with half an ounce or less of pot won't be arrested isn't the point lawmakers were trying to make.

Mike Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy's criminal justice advisor, says the bill will help the state better use its resources.

"So right now in theory you could go to jail for a year for possession of a small amount of marijuana that never happens in practice. But if the penalty is a $100 fine and possible license suspension that can kick in very quickly. And at the end of the day the courts are going to save a lot of time and money and re-focus that on crimes everyone is actually concerned about domestic violence, actual violence."

The punishment is more severe for those 21 and under who are caught with marijuana. They could lose their license for two months and be referred to juvenile justice officials.

Opponents worry the state is sending a message that it's okay to smoke pot and that it will encourage more to do so. Lawlor says that's not the case in more than a dozen states who have decriminalized pot

"It's pretty consistent around the country in every state except for Alaska that the number of people using marijuana in the past month is about five or six percent of the population, that number doesn't change and hasn't changed its pretty consistent. In Alaska that number is about 10 percent and maybe that has to do with long nights in Alaska."

Governor Malloy is expected to sign the measure into law which will go into effect July 1.   
for WNPR, I'm Lucy Nalpathanchil