May 22, 2023 Kyle Jaeger
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The Connecticut House of Representatives has approved a bill to build on the state’s marijuana legalization and expungements law by requiring courts to reduce sentences or dismiss charges for a wider range of cannabis-related convictions and, accordingly, to release people who are currently incarcerated on those charges.
After clearing the joint Judiciary Committee in late March, the legislation passed the full House in a 138-10 vote on Thursday. It’s now awaiting action in the Senate.
As introduced, the bill would have mandated that prosecutors dismiss marijuana charges for activity that’s been made legal, but lawmakers approved an amendment removing that language after state’s attorneys throughout Connecticut proactively facilitated relief in more than 1,500 cases following the enactment of legalization.
The amended legislation makes it so sentencing courts and judges must “discharge or modify a sentence” for marijuana violations related to cannabis drug paraphernalia and selling or possessing up to four ounces of marijuana, as well as for personal home cultivation.
A person would no longer need to petition for the relief under the revised bill.
Here are the specific crimes subject to resentencing and potential release from incarceration, according to a n official summary of the bill:
1. using or possessing with intent to use drug paraphernalia to store, contain, or conceal cannabis, or to ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce cannabis into the human body (CGS § 21a267);
2. manufacturing, distributing, selling, prescribing, compounding, transporting with the intent to sell or dispense, possessing with the intent to sell or dispense, offering, giving, or administering to another person a cannabis-type substance of less than or equal to four ounces or six plants grown inside a person’s own primary residence for personal use (CGS § 21a-277); or
3. possessing a cannabis-type substance of less than or equal to four ounces (CGS § 21a-279).
The Last Prisoner Project (LLP), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) helped craft the reform measure.
“If signed into law, this would be the most robust state-initiated cannabis resentencing scheme in the country,” Sarah Gersten, executive director and general counsel for LPP, told Marijuana Moment.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D) co-chair of the Judiciary Committee where the bill originated, said that when the state moved to legalize marijuana, “one of the things we recognized is that we should undo the harm that the war on drugs with respect to cannabis has caused.”
“While I may still face a sentence for one or more of the offenses for which I was convicted, I should not face adverse consequences,” Stafstrom said on the floor last week. “I should not face a sentence based on my simple possession of cannabis, so this bill allows for that modification process.”
He and Rep. Craig Fishbein (R), a ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, expressed appreciation for the state prosecutors who took it upon themselves to process cannabis relief without an explicit directive to do so after legalization took effect.
“I want to, of course, offer my thanks to the office of Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin and to the various state’s attorneys around the state for working so diligently with us to in fact moot the first provision,” Stafstrom said.
“I, too, want to thank the State’s Attorney’s Office,” Fishbein added. “The fact that they took what we passed and prioritized this—they didn’t have to do that.”
Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced in January that the state had separately cleared nearly 43,000 records for marijuana-related convictions. The legalization legislation that he signed into law in 2021 empowered the state government to facilitate mass cannabis conviction relief.
The state also launched a web portal in January that provides residents with information about the status of their cannabis records and also guides those with older eligible convictions that weren’t automatically erased through the process of petitioning the courts for relief.
Lamont has embraced the state’s adult-use market, which launched at the beginning of the year, saying that he’s optimistic that it will mitigate illicit sales.
He also joked that one of his concerns about the cannabis industry rollout would be finding a place in line at one of the dispensaries. He wasn’t being serious, but the governor previously didn’t rule out the idea of participating in the legal marketplace.
In March alone, Connecticut saw a record $22 million in combined recreational and medical marijuana sales, state data shows.
Meanwhile, the House also approved a bill to decriminalize possession of psilocybin mushrooms this month, sending it to the Senate.