Taking on Marijuana Laws

The state could reduce the penalties for carrying small amounts of pot.

Lawmakers will begin deciding today whether to change the state’s marijuana laws.

A hearing is being held on Monday to discuss legalizing marijuana for people with serious medical problems and decriminalizing small amounts of it for people who do not have a prescription.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven and Hamden, spoke in favor of several of the bills. 

“Our state should not encourage illegal drug possession and use; however, possession of small amounts of illicit substances and related paraphernalia for personal use should not leave a person with a life-long criminal record,” Looney said.

It appears that the Legislature and governor are poised to pass them, with a lot of public support, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

The Legislature voted in 2007 to make medical use of marijuana legal and then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed it.

Marijuana is used to treat patients who are suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating conditions.

"These citizens deserve compassion rather than arrest, fines, court costs, property forfeiture, incarceration, probation and criminal records,” Looney said.

An overwhelming 79 percent of voters told pollsters that they approve legalization of medical marijuana and 17 percent were opposed.

Another bill being considered would reduce penalties for people who have less than 1 ounce of marijuana. They would be charged with an infraction the equivalent of a parking ticket and be charged a $100 fine.

The decriminalization measure plays into Gov. Dannel Malloy's attempt at reducing the state's prison population, which is now is at its lowest level in decades.

Several states have already made the same move, including Massachusetts.

Malloy wants to allow judges the option of issuing home arrest for nonviolent drug offenses involving less than 4 ounces of marijuana.

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