If Gov. Dannel Malloy gets his way, possessing under one ounce of marijuana will no longer be a crime in the state of Connecticut.
At a conversation sponsored by the Yale College Democrats Monday night in the Branford Common Room, four panelists involved in government and the law discussed the decriminalization of marijuana before an audience of 20 students. Though they agreed that bills currently under consideration would save money for the government and reduce the number of prisoners statewide, each of the speakers said that concerns about appearing to publicly endorse marijuana use might impede decriminalization.
“The laws will only change when public opinion changes,” said Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary of criminal justice policy and planning at the Office of Policy Management. “The sad thing is that we spend more money running prisons than we do public colleges.”
Lawlor said that Malloy has already introduced a number of bills aimed at reducing the prison population and cutting government debt to the state legislature. He cited one bill that would classify the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as an infraction, rather than a criminal offense, with a maximum penalty of $100. By freeing up both police and the courts from having to prosecute marijuana cases, he said, the state would save considerable resources, most importantly time and money.
Christian Young, a criminal defense attorney from Bridgeport who spoke at the event, agreed that police officers and lawyers are wasting their time prosecuting marijuana offenses in a judicial system that is already overworked. He pointed out that 15 states have already passed decriminalization laws and have not seen any spike in marijuana use.
“Continuing to vilify something that has clear medical benefits is outrageous,” Young said. “The human toll — where kids are being arrested and stigmatized as criminals, kicked out of school and forced to lose their student funding — has to be fixed.”
Joe Brooks, a retired police officer and representative for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said that the criminalization of marijuana is based in racial history and that a disproportionate amount of minorities are arrested for possession.
“The War On Drugs is ridiculous and a failure,” he said. “Anyone who disagrees with this has got to have their head in the sand.”
Students who attended the talk said that the panelists did a good job of laying out the arguments in support of decriminalization, but that full legalization of marijuana would eventually be the right policy to institute. Marina Keegan ’12, the president of the Yale College Democrats, said that advocating legalization would not be prudent in the current political climate, but that decriminalization will solve some current problems, like prison overcrowding and cost.
Dalton Johnson ’14 and Sarah Cox ’14 said that they were frustrated by the idea of decriminalization being a step in the right direction. Neither thought that it would go far enough in eliminating a black market for drugs.
“As long as we’re too scared to talk about why possessing marijuana is criminal in the first place, we won’t make any progress,” Cox said. “My dad actually lives in Mexico, and with problems he sees happening in the drug war there, I think legalization is the most sensible policy.”
The Yale College Democrats will be holding a meeting for the lobbying committee to discuss decriminalizing marijuana Wednesday at 6 p.m..