Recent Changes to Connecticut Drug Crime Laws

Posted on: August 9, 2019

Beginning in 2011, Connecticut legislators updated drug crime and policies by not only decriminalizing possession of marijuana in smaller amounts but also re-categorizing acts previously prosecuted as felonies to misdemeanors.  Primarily, Connecticut enacted laws to reduce drug crime and incarceration rates.

In fact, by prioritizing policy changes to combat drug addiction and prioritizing treatment over incarceration, the incarceration rates in Connecticut have steadily fallen.

Previous drug crime changes 

Since 2011, possession of .5 ounces or less of marijuana was seen as a civil violation in Connecticut, punishable by a monetary fine not exceeding $150. If subsequently found to possess .5 ounces or less of marijuana, an additional civil violation occurred with an accompanying monetary fine between $200 and $500.  However, for a third possession charge, offenders were referred to a drug awareness program.

In contrast, for individuals under the age of 21 found in possession of .5 ounces or less of marijuana faced the additional possibility of having their driver’s license revoked.

More recent drug crime changes 

In June 2015, former Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed Public Act 15-2 into law, changing Connecticut’s overall approach to drug possession.  The Act reclassified possession of illegal drugs from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor, with the maximum punishment being up to one year in prison and a possible monetary fine. In the event that prior offenses existed, the court has the discretion to adjust sentencing. Unfortunately, for repeat offenders with severe prior records, the court could instead charge the defendant with a felony, with a possible penalty of up to 3 years in prison.  Fortunately, in its attempts to decrease the incarceration rate in Connecticut, courts had the discretion to offer treatment for possession if it found the defendant to be dependent on drugs. 

In 2016, former Governor Malloy signed Public Act 16-43 into law specifically in response to the opioid crisis in Connecticut. This Act was specifically targeted at over-prescription, creating a prescription monitoring system to ensure patients were only prescribed a maximum of 7 days worth of pills at any given time. In addition, the Act required health care professionals to begin educating recipients on the dangers of addiction, specifically concerning opioids.

Possible future drug crime legislation 

In March and April 2019, lawmakers in Connecticut introduced their plan to legalize marijuana not only for recreational use but also retail sales to individuals aged 21 and older. The respective committees approved drafts regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana use and approved bills regarding marijuana in the workplace and driving while under the influence of marijuana. 

On May 1, a significant portion of the legislation was approved, only requiring final negotiations between the Connecticut legislature and current Governor Ned Lamont. However, the Connecticut legislature adjourned on June 5, 2019, without bringing the legalization bills to a vote.  Though stalled in the state legislation chambers, when asked about future plans leaders in the Connecticut state Congress and current Governor Ned Lamont have indicated they will continue to support the legalization and regulation of marijuana.   

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NOTE: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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