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Senate Leader Backs Pot Decriminalization Bill

Removing criminal penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana could save the state more than $11 million in law enforcement costs, according to a new legislative report cited by a state Senate leader trying to rally support for his decriminalization bill.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D- New Haven, submitted testimony Tuesday to the legislature’s judiciary committee on a measure that would decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by changing the offense from a misdemeanor — punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and one year in jail — to an infraction subject to a fine of up to $121.

Looney said that the bill “represents a compassionate and pragmatic policy. Our 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 cut costs for police, courts, public defenders and prosecutors, he said.

The judiciary panel has until April 3 to decide whether to move the bill forward for further action, but Looney’s wasn’t the only view.

“It seems surreal that the same General Assembly that legislatively addresses quality of life and health issues, like trans-fat and secondhand smoke, would ever consider a bill that decriminalizes a substance which has such noxious effects,” said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton. “Marijuana is a gateway for other drugs.”

The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis said that the 9,928 marijuana arrests in Connecticut in 2007 represented 7 percent of total arrests statewide, and it estimated that 3,300 of those involved less than an ounce.

“Based on a proportionate analysis” of money spent to handle those cases, the report said, “it is estimated that the proposal could save up to $11 million and generate $320,000 … from fines annually.”

Looney said that Massachusetts residents voted last year to decriminalize possessing the same quantity of marijuana.


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