[JURIST] The Connecticut Senate [official website] on Saturday approved by a 19-18 vote SB 1014 [text, PDF; materials] which provides for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The vote was at 18-18 until Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman [official website] broke the deadlock. The bill must now be passed by the Connecticut House of Representatives [official website] to become law. Supporters of the bill contend that the bill is intended only to “realign” [AP report] the degree of punishment with the seriousness of the offense. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy [official website] agreed with vote calling it “common sense reforms.” He stated [press release]:
The punishment should fit the crime. Let’s be clear — we are not making marijuana legal and we are not allowing people who use it and get caught to avoid the repercussions. But we are acknowledging the reality that we are doing more harm than good when we prosecute people who are caught using marijuana — needlessly stigmatizing them in a way we would not if they were caught drinking underage, for example, and disproportionately affecting minorities.
However, detractors of the bill say that the bill improperly lessens the severity of drug addiction. Under SB 1014 possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana would no longer be a misdemeanor and would instead result in a $150-500 fine depending upon the number of offenses. Additionally, individuals under the age of 21 could potentially have their driver’s license suspended for 60 days. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) [advocacy website], if the Connecticut legislature passes SB1014 it would join [materials] Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon as states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Yet, under Gonzales v. Raich [opinion text; JURIST report] the federal government may regulate marijuana use under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution even if individual states decriminalize its possession.
The decriminalization of marijuana has been a contentious issue. Last week the Global Commission on Drug Policy [official website] released a report [JURIST report] calling for the international legalization of cannabis, marijuana and other drugs. The panel emphasized treatment and programs that discourage children from taking drugs, rather than relying on harsh punishments. The report stated that the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 [text, PDF] and the US’s “War on Drugs” both have failed. Last month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] filed a federal lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking a declaratory judgment over the legality under federal law of the State’s legalization of medical marijuana [JURIST report] passed in November 2010. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 14 US states. In October 2009, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] issued guidelines for a new policy [JURIST report] for investigating and prosecuting state-sanctioned medical marijuana use. Those guidelines reflect a pledge made by Holder in March to stop federal raids [JURIST report] on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state laws. However, Holder has emphasized that if a state legalizes drugs for recreational use, federal law will be enforced [LAT report], as California attempted to legalize marijuana last year [JURIST report].