One of Connecticut’s leading opponents of the marijuana decriminalization bill told Patch Monday she believes Gov. Dannel Malloy’s interest in the legislation is rooted — at least in part — in his son’s 2007 arrest for possession and distribution of the drug.
Saying it undermines the anti-drug messages taught to children and causes severe health problems, state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) slammed the marijuana decriminalization bill which passed Connecticut’s Senate in a special session Saturday.
After the senate split the vote 18-18, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman cast the tiebreaking vote in the bill's favor. As she cast the tiebreaking vote, Boucher said, Wyman was acting on behalf of Malloy's administration.
“Malloy is promoting this bill," she said. "One of his sons has had serious problems with drugs. [The governor] has a personal interest in this."
The governor released a statement this afternoon applauding passage of the bill and saying it does not legalize marijuana.
“Final approval of this legislation accepts the reality that the current law does more harm than good – both in the impact it has on people’s lives and the burden it places on police, prosecutors and probation officers of the criminal justice system," Malloy said.
"Let me make it clear - we are not legalizing the use of marijuana. In modifying this law, we are recognizing that the punishment should fit the crime. . ." he said.
In November 2007, Malloy’s son, Benjamin, was charged with selling marijuana. At that time, he was given five years’ probation, with three years of jail suspended, according to the Connecticut Department of Justice.
In 2009, he was arrested again, this time allegedly attempting to rob a Darien man at gunpoint to steal his marijuana. He was then given five years’ probation, with 10 years of jail suspended, according to the DOJ.
If the bill — S.B. 1014 — passes the House and is signed into law by Malloy, as Boucher expects, those caught with less than one half-ounce of marijuana (roughly 14 grams) would face a fine of $150 for their first offense. Subsequent offenses would carry fines ranging from $200 to $500, Boucher said.
Currently, first-time possession of less than four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor in Connecticut, punishable by up to a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or "NORML."
A second offense of less than four ounces is a felony, punishable by up to a fine of $3,000 and up to five years in jail. Asked whether nonviolent marijuana users are punished fairly under current laws, Boucher said that those arrested for simple possession often are not convicted.
“They do not prosecute for simple possession,” Boucher said, adding that convictions for possession are often the result of “pleading down” in cases where, for example, perpetrators are nabbed for burglary or arrested with weapons and choose to plead guilty for lesser punishments.
If the bill becomes law, Connecticut would become the 14th state to have decriminalized marijuana, according to NORML. Boucher said the bill is a step toward outright legalization of marijuana.
“The groups promoting these bills have stated so — the ultimate design is for full legalization,” she said. Boucher represents Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton in the legislature.
She said that if the bill has a silver lining, it’s in the amendments attached to it: If a person under the age of 21 is caught with marijuana, his or her driver’s license would be suspended for 60 days, and if caught for a third time with marijuana, the offender would be required to attend a drug treatment program at his or her own expense.
“I still didn’t support it,” Boucher said, adding that no Republican state senators did either. According to the General Assembly’s website, four Democratic Senators also opposed it: Joan Hartley (D-15), Edward Meyer (D-12), Gayle Slossberg (D-14) and Paul Doyle (D-9).