In 2021, the state of Connecticut made a historic move by passing a bill that legalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana for adults, marking a significant shift towards a more equitable society. However, the celebration was short-lived. It quickly became apparent that the bill failed to provide clear guidelines for individuals who were already incarcerated for the now-legal marijuana-related offenses.
This loophole in the legislation created a new injustice in Connecticut, as people were still being punished for something that was no longer considered a crime. It was unclear what would happen to those who were already serving sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses, and their fate was left in limbo.
A new bill in the Connecticut General Assembly, HB 6787: An Act Concerning the Prosecution of Cannabis-Related Cases and Modification of Sentences for Cannabis-Related Offenses, would fix this issue. It would cease prosecution of any pending cannabis-related cases that would otherwise be legal now and require a review of sentences for cannabis-related offenses to see if they can be modified.
It is simply unfair that some individuals are in prison for an act that is now legal in the state. The only thing determining whether someone found in possession of marijuana would be prosecuted is time, not harm or legality. If they were found in possession one day before the 2021 law went into effect, they would be guilty. If they were found one day after, then they weren’t breaking any law at all. The arbitrary difference in time between when an act was considered a crime and when it became legal should not be the sole determinant of an individual’s freedom. The state of Connecticut has already recognized that the purchase of small amounts of marijuana posed no danger to its citizens. No one should be incarcerated for something that the public has agreed should not be a crime.
Moreover, the cost of keeping someone incarcerated is expensive, especially in Connecticut, where it costs around $249 per day, and $90,885 a year, one of the highest rates in the country. To put this into perspective, in 2021 alone, there were around 557 marijuana-related arrests in Connecticut. Assuming that all these individuals were incarcerated, that would cost around $139,000 for marijuana-related incarcerations per day and around $51 million per year. This is a significant financial burden on the state and its taxpayers, especially considering that the purchase of small amounts of marijuana is no longer considered a danger to society. The money saved could be directed towards other important programs in Connecticut such as education and healthcare.
Furthermore, the racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests cannot be ignored and are yet another reason why it is imperative that Connecticut takes action and passes HB 6787. In the state of Connecticut, Black people were already four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, which is slightly higher than the national average. Although the legalization of marijuana has led to a decrease in arrest rates overall in many states, racial disparities still persist. It is clear that legalization alone is not enough to address the systemic inequalities that exist within Connecticut’s criminal justice system.
Other states, such as Colorado, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington, have taken action to address similar issues by passing legislation that allows individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition for record expungement or reduction. These states recognize the importance of providing justice and fairness to those previously convicted of activities that are now legal. It’s time for Connecticut to follow in their footsteps and take the necessary steps to provide relief to those who have been unjustly impacted by previous marijuana laws.
The citizens of Connecticut have the power to fight for change. By contacting your state representatives and sharing your personal stories and experiences of how the war on drugs has affected your lives, you can make a meaningful impact towards change. Your voices have the strength to ensure these injustices will not continue to be ignored. The Connecticut General Assembly must take action to address this injustice by passing this bill.
Adam Walker is a student at Yale University.