A controversial bill which would have decriminalized a half ounce of marijuana was defeated Tuesday afternoon after a Senator, who was the subject of an email threat for her opposition to it, led a half-hour filibuster.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who had pages of information to share with Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee members, fought back tears as the clock ran out and the bill ultimately died.
“This is a very emotional issue for me,” Boucher said after thanking her colleagues. She said she feels the state needs to maintain its currents laws in order to deter illegal drug use.
Creating a $250 fine for possession of a half ounce of marijuana would increase the demand on the criminal justice system that the bill seeks to alleviate, Boucher said. She said a half ounce of marijuana is enough to roll 30 to 45 joints and by reducing possession to a $250 infraction it says to the young people that “this drug is more benign than tobacco.”
Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who supported the proposal said he thinks the state will be able to get better outcomes by lowering marijuana possession to an infraction. He said the court system is needlessly clogged with these types of cases.
According to the Office of Fiscal Analysisthere were 9,928 marijuana arrests in Connecticut in 2007. Based on prior research findings, it is estimated that approximately 33 percent of those arrests – or 3,300 – were for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
“Based on a proportionate analysis of resources currently allocated to handle these offenses, it is estimated that the proposal could save up to $11 million and generate $320,000 in General Fund revenue – from fines – annually,” the OFA report says.
“Senate Bill 349 represents a compassionate and pragmatic policy,” Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, the bill’s main proponent has said. “Our state should not encourage illegal drug use; however, possession of marijuana for personal use should not leave a person with a life-long criminal record. This bill would also create budgetary savings.”
Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, said the committee has one more day to act on the bill, but it has no meeting scheduled for tomorrow so the bill is effectively dead. Of course, no legislation is ever dead because bills can always be amended until the last day of session of the legislative session, which this year is June 3.
Aside from the policy issue, Boucher said news that the National Organization For Reform of Marijuana Laws had decided to end its Connecticut Chapter after its vice president sent a profanity laced email to the state came a little too late.
“In no way should we have the Democratic process silenced,” Boucher said.
McDonald, a recipient of an email threat himself, agreed. He said that the threat Boucher received as a result of her advocacy on this issue was “outrageous” and “unacceptable.”
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of Norml, said in an emailed statement that the organization “in no way endorses the threat of violence or intimidation directed at elected policymakers, and condemn the actions of Dominic Vita of the recently formed Connecticut NORML for his emails sent to State Senator Toni Boucher.”
As a result of Vita’s email, St. Pierre said the Connecticut Chapter of Norml, which was less than a month old, was terminated immediately.
Vita, who was arrested Friday and arraigned on charges of disorderly conduct in Hartford Community Court on Monday, resigned as vice president of the now defunct Connecticut Chapter immediately after his arrest.
Capitol Police Chief Michael Fallon said Vita claims he mistakenly hit reply, instead of forward after receiving an email from the Connecticut General Assembly Bill Tracking notice system. He said the email was not sent directly to Boucher, but the Information Technology System Help Desk alerted police to the email which was then shared with Boucher.
According to the court affidavit the email says: “David, not sure if you have seen what these douche bags are up to at the capitol, but I’m getting ready to go postal. Sen. Boucher is about to get my foot in his/her fucking face. My tolerance for these fucking worthless pieces of shit is rapidly eroding. Things are going to get really ugly soon.”
As a condition of his bond, Vita was instructed by the court to stay away from the state Capitol and not to contact any member of the General Assembly.
His next court date is July 13.
Fallon said police enacted a heightened security level at the Capitol campus as a result of the email and had two plain clothes officers in the committee room for Tuesday’s debate on the bill. Fallon said the same actions were taken after Rep. Michael Lawlor and McDonald were threatened by a New Britain man.