Advocates of a pair of marijuana reform bills hope amended language and a persuasive governor will guarantee the General Assembly passes one or both before next Wednesday's adjournment, according to Brian Lockhart of the CTPost.com.
"At least one of the two is going to pass," Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel Malloy's criminal justice undersecretary, said Wednesday. Lawmakers worked behind the scenes to refine proposals decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and also possibly legalizing it for medicinal purposes.
A provision allowing home cultivation for medical marijuana patients has been recently removed. Also punishments for repeat marijuana possession have been increased to help the bill pass.
The two bills breezed through the Legislative Committee process and await action in the Senate, which must pass them on to the House of Representatives.
"We've been under the assumption they're not coming out of the Senate," House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Wednesday.
But Lawlor and Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, a Judiciary Committee chairman, were optimistic the proposals are off life support thanks to recent changes.
The fine for possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana has been increased from $99 to $200 for the first offense and $500 for the second and possession of under 4 ounces is now punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Minors will also lose driving privileges for a period of time, according to Coleman.
Connecticut legislators passed a bill in 2009 to decriminalize marijuana only to have it vetoed by the previous governor Jodi Rell (R). This year, the proposal is backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the public. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 65 percent of those surveyed support decriminalizing the drug.
Decriminalizing cannabis is a pragmatic option for the state because it frees up a massive amount tax dollars needed for law enforcement. Two neighboring states, Massachusetts and New York, have already decriminalized small amounts of marijuana without any problems.
The revised medical marijuana legislation scraps the section allowing home-grown plants, replacing it with a controlled distribution process with four regional growers overseen by the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Governor Malloy's own family has been affected by the current drug policy. In 2007 police accused the governor's son, Benjamin Malloy, of being a marijuana dealer and he entered into a probationary program that would have wiped his record clean. But in late 2009, Benjamin was sentenced to five years probation for trying to rob a Darien man of his marijuana with a BB gun.
The governor has declined to discuss his son's case, but in March told Hearst Connecticut Media Group current marijuana laws needlessly ruin lives as part of a losing drug war.
"Let's accept reality," he said.