In early June 2011, Connecticut approved the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Lawmakers hoped that passing such a measure would help to keep low-level offenders out of the state’s court and prison systems and free up police resources for more serious cases.
A year after making minor marijuana possession an infraction punishable by a $150 fine, the state is now beginning to reflect on the impact of decriminalization.
After decriminalization occurred, marijuana possession arrests immediately dropped. However, the measure seems to have had a smaller impact for law enforcement officials.
According to Judge Robert Devlin, “This change, to be perfectly candid, it’s a modest effect on our court dockets.” Devlin is the primary administrative judge for criminal matters.
Figures released by the Judicial Department show a decrease in the total number of marijuana citations, whether ticket or arrest. However, they do not show whether decriminalization led to a lessening of court activity. This could be because many people who are charged with marijuana possession are also facing other charges, so they must go to court anyway.
Michael P. Lawlor, the undersecretary of the Office of Policy and Management for criminal justice policy, is one of the individuals who pushed for the legislation in the first place. A year later, Lawlor acknowledges that the greatest impact has been on the state’s probation system because defendants are no longer put into a diversionary program and probation for minor marijuana possession.
Others who opposed the legislation still feel as though it has not been beneficial to the state. Kevin T. Kane, Chief State’s Attorney, said that “[Prosecutors] have not noticed any significant decrease in their workload. A lot of the cases, the people who are charged have other charges too.”
Some people who have received tickets have also decided to challenge them in court because they do not want to have an infraction on their record.
As minor marijuana possession decriminalization becomes more prevalent throughout the United States and the world, it will become increasingly evident whether the legislation does indeed take the burden off of law enforcement and the court system. In Connecticut, the impact of decriminalization legislation is not totally clear cut as of yet.