Throughout the country, state governments are deciding whether to decriminalize marijuana, and they are looking at Connecticut\’s law as they craft their proposals.
Prior to July 2011, a person caught with less than half an ounce of marijuana in Connecticut was arrested. Now, people older than 21 who are caught with that amount of marijuana get tickets and $150 fines. People 21 and under get tickets and a 60-day driver\’s license suspensions.
Fines for subsequent offenses range from $200 to $500. Those who are caught three or more times are required to obtain drug counseling, and they must pay for the counseling themselves.
Rhode Island and Maine are the latest states to announce legislation that would decriminalize marijuana, and representatives from those states participated in a Marijuana Policy Project teleconference Thursday.
Rhode Island has already passed a law that decriminalizes the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. It goes into effect next spring, and, like in Connecticut, law breakers will also get a $150 fine.
That law, however, doesn\’t go far enough, said Rep. Edith Ajello, a Democrat who chairs the Rhode Island legislature\’s judiciary committee.
Prohibiting marijuana use has not worked, and more adults and minors are using the drug, she said.
Ajello said she will introduce a bill in January that would both legalize and tax marijuana. She said she envisions marijuana purchases to be made like liquor purchases — at a store where sales can be regulated.
As part of her research, Ajello said she has looked at Connecticut\’s law. While helpful, Ajello said she is looking to take decriminalization a step further than Connecticut lawmakers did.
In Maine, Rep. Diana Russell, a Democrat, says she will reintroduce a bill she sponsored last legislative session. Like Ajello\’s bill, Russell\’s bill would also regulate and tax marijuana consumption. It would get marijuana off the black market, Russell said.
Both lawmakers are hopeful that their proposals will be supported by their legislative colleagues.
\”We\’re starting to see a dramatic culture shift across the board,\” Russell said of people\’s attitude about the decriminalization of marijuana.
Robert Capecchi, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he agrees.
There\’s very good support for changing marijuana laws, he said, explaining that a poll conducted last year by Gallup found 50 percent support for making marijuana legal. That support has continued to rise, he said.
The decriminalization of marijuana is different from the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. Both Rhode Island and Maine already allow for medical marijuana use. Connecticut legalized medical marijuana on Oct. 1.