When legislators proposed decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, they pointed to a Harvard study that said police spend about $30 million a year arresting and investigating low-level marijuana users in Massachusetts. There was not a similar study in Connecticut.
Now there is. According to the General Assembly's Office of Fiscal Analysis, there were 9,928 marijuana arrests in Connecticut in 2007, which represents 7 percent of total arrests statewide. Based on prior research, the office estimates that about a third of those arrests, or 3,300, were for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Take those cases out of the system and replace them with a simple fine, and the state could save up to $11 million and generate $320,000 in revenue, the report concludes.
That is more reason to support the decriminalization measure. It's a shame it takes a recession to make the point, but the state's criminal justice and correction systems are staggeringly expensive. As far as possible, jails ought to be for serious violent offenders, not kids caught with a joint. To make them pay a fine, do public service or attend a treatment session makes so much more sense.
The proposal would change the crime of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to a year, to an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $121. Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney called the change "compassionate and pragmatic," and he's right.
After a failed 35-year "war on drugs," we need to think differently, to approach the use of illegal narcotics as a public health problem and reduce demand through education and treatment. Massachusetts voters passed a referendum last year that decriminalized the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Connecticut should follow suit.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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