Marijuana decrim wins a ‘joint favorable’

A proposal to reduce the penalty of getting caught with small amounts of marijuana has cleared another legislative committee, and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Currently those convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana face a criminal record and a fine of up to $1,000. The proposal was approved Tuesday by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on a 31-20 vote would carry a $100 fine and no criminal record for those caught with a half-ounce or less.

In legislative jargon, committee approval is known as a “joint favorable report.”

The Malloy Administration estimates 2,000 offenders are caught each year with small amounts of marijuana and brought into the justice system. The legislature’s non-partisan research office reported that states that have reduced penalties for possession have “significantly reduced expenses” for arrests and prosecution.

But those that voted against the proposal – mostly the Republicans on the committee – said it sends the wrong message about the drug being off limits. In 10 of the 13 states where decriminalization has taken place, marijuana use exceeds the national average, according to a report by the Office of Legislative Research.

A similar proposal was voted out of the Judiciary Committee in 2009, but then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell promised to veto it so the General Assembly never voted on the bill. 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.