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Marijuana Legal: Not So Much!!

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July 1, 2011 was the new “Independence Day” for marijuana users in Connecticut. It was on that date that the new Public Act 11-71 became effective. The new act reflected Connecticut’s capitulation to a growing national trend to de-criminalize marijuana. Prior to that date, possession of any amount of marijuana less than four ounces was a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine.

Frankly, no one was going to jail for possession of less than four ounces. Most defendants were utilizing several pre-trial diversionary programs, the most common of which was the Community Service Labor Program (CSLP). Under that program a case was continued and the defendant was required to complete 14 days of community service and attend a drug education course. Successful completion meant a dismissal.

Even if you had previously used the CSLP there were still other diversionary programs that still could be sought. The net effect, in cases of possession of minimal amounts of the drug, was a burden on the courts, prosecutors and the Court Support Services Division that monitored these programs.

The legislature did not legalize possession of marijuana. That is a critical distinction. Rather, the offense was relegated to an infraction. By definition in Connecticut an infraction is not a criminal offense. “Conviction” of an infraction does not carry with it the impediments that accompany a misdemeanor conviction.

The new law provides: “(a) Any person who possesses or has under his control less than one-half ounce of a cannabis-type substance [marijuana] . . . shall (1) for a first offense, be fined one hundred fifty dollars, and (2) for a subsequent offense, be fined not less than two hundred dollars or more than five hundred dollars.” Fines can be paid by mail, thus avoiding court appearances and freeing the court docket for more serious matters.

The Act further provides that a police officer seizing the substance shall cause it to be destroyed. On its face this portion addresses the burden that simple possession cases were putting on the state toxicology laboratory. The problem is that it makes an officer’s determination that a substance was marijuana unassailable.

For one, pot dealers have ripped off unsuspecting buyers in the past by selling oregano. The two substances appear somewhat similar (although anyone who has ever eaten pizza would certainly smell the difference). Police officers can perform a rudimentary drug test, but once the item is destroyed there is no way to contest the officer’s conclusion. One would wonder why that mattered if the arrest did not lead to anything more than a fine with no lasting criminal record; read on.

For those above the age of 21 (good news for the aging baby boomers who were the high-guys and gals of the ’60′s) the only penalty is a fine. For those under 21 there is a further penalty–suspension of their driver’s license for 60 days. Many experienced criminal defense lawyers I have spoken to were unaware of this secondary penalty. While that enhanced penalty would make sense if the youngster possessed the drug in a car, license suspension applies no matter where the offender is discovered.

Possession of any amount of marijuana with the intent to sell it is a felony, punishable up to seven years in prison, with enhanced penalties if the offense occurs within 1500 feet of a school (as”the crow flies”). In most Connecticut cities one cannot travel anywhere without being in that proximity to a school.

Determining someone’s intent is difficult so courts look at certain circumstances as indicia of the intent to sell. Among those indicators are the concurrent possession of a scale, packing material, money, or weapons. Thus, take the youngster who is stopped for a traffic violation and has 3 grams of pot. That amount qualifies as an infraction. But put that weed near a small scale and what could have been a non-criminal infraction is now a felony!

So before you start searching for that old tie-died psychedelic tee shirt from the ’60′s you better understand the full extent of the law. The old Latin maxim, Caveat Emptor, applies here as well!

Let me know what you think. Post your comments below or send me a Tweet @RichMeehan on Twitter.

Categories: General
Rich Meehan

3 Responses

  1. Marijuana is not that bad as it can contribute a lot to your health. The thing is that, it should be abused. It should be used occasionally or in cases it is needed. As long as it will not be used for addiction, I have no problem of making its usage legal.

  2. Why such prohibited drugs have been legalized anyway? If it is for medical reason, the carrier should at least have a clearance to buy and bring such drugs elsewhere but with certain amount only.

  3. Nancy says:

    They should just legalize it across the country and collect their taxes and stop their double standards. “legal” drugs have been proven over and over again to be much more dangerous and lethal. Too bad Whitney Houston wasn’t just smoking pot last week instead of taking all her legal prescriptions.

    If big pharma could patent pot, their lobbyists would have it legalized in a heart beat. And behind the counter pot that wouldn’t even need a prescription. I don’t smoke Pot or even take aspirin, but to waste so many resources on both sides of the issue is ridiculous. There are serious crimes and drugs out there, big gangs taking over areas, and the police are too scared to deal with them. It’s easier to harass and fine pit users and pretend they are doing something about the serious violent drug problem in America..when they are not.

    All people in jail for pot offenses should be released. They should pay a fine… Like a tax on the product and be done with it.