Inmates serving time for cannabis possession could soon be able to get their sentences reduced thanks to a bill that passed the House of Representatives Thursday.
The bill, which garnered a 138-10 vote, would require judges to schedule hearings to allow defendants to argue for a sentence modification. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, and co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the bill is a continuation of lawmakers legalizing recreational cannabis two years ago.
“When this legislature legalized recreational cannabis two years ago, one of the things we recognized was we should undo the harm that the war on drugs, with respect to cannabis, has caused,” he said.
The bill, if approved, would apply to convictions prior to that legalization and would address what Stafstrom described as “simple possession of cannabis.”
It would apply to people convicted of possession and other crimes, but it would make no changes for those found guilty of cannabis-related offenses that remain illegal, including unlicensed sales.
Judges would have six months to schedule hearings for defendants convicted of cannabis possession and other defenses.
If a defendant can show “good cause” for a reduction on cannabis-related offenses — this bill does not address any other crimes — the bill requires the judge to lower the sentencing accordingly.
That can include less prison time or a discharge or probation, with that time being no more than the original sentence.
The original bill also instructed prosecutors to drop any pending marijuana-related possession charges in current cases. Stafstrom said Thursday that prosecutors have done that, dropping thousands of charges statewide.
He said that portion of the bill was now “moot,” the House removed it.
Rep. Craigh Fishebein, R-Wallingford, a ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, thanked prosecutors for making that a priority over the spring.
The Judicial Branch initially objected to the bill because of the requirement, calling it a violation of the state constitution’s separation of powers.
“The fact that they took what we passed and prioritized this — they didn’t have to do that,” he said.
Fishbein supported the remainder of the bill, calling it “good policy.”
Other than the Judicial Branch’s opposition, the bill has drawn broad support. The ACLU and Division of Criminal Defenders both backed the bill.
The Chief State’s Attorney even supported the “spirit” of the bill, but said the legislature could have made cannabis possession legal retroactively to benefit people arrested before 2021. That’s no longer needed after prosecutors dropped pending charges.
Separately, the state has erased past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. Gov. Ned Lamont said in December that a new law that took effect in January partially or fully erased 44,000 convictions.