The State Legislature's judiciary committee has voted in favor of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. It's now up to the house and senate to finalize the decision.
The original bill would have penalized people caught with less than one ounce of marijuana with a civil infraction and a fine of $100. That was reduced to less than half an ounce, and a maximum fine of $250. What does half an ounce look like?
"There was an individual who brought in a bag of oregano, and if you used your average sandwich bag and you went up about three inches, that's probably about the size of a half ounce of marijuana," said State Senator John Kissel, the ranking Senate Republican on the committee.
Kissel voted against the measure. He said by just having people pay a $250 fine, it takes them out of a counseling situation that could redirect their lives in a more positive way.
"I understand there are probably adults out there that feel that they can handle this and they don't feel that they should face a criminal record," said Kissel, "but we also have a lot of diversionary programs in Connecticut, and those are going to fall by the waste side."
Right now, someone found with less than a half-ounce of marijuana is charged with a misdemeanor, can face up to one year in jail, and pay a maximum fine of one thousand dollars. Even if the bill passes, the original law would still apply for teenagers under 18.
Kissel said the factors that pushed the bill through were the potential state savings in judicial, corrections, and law enforcement.
According to the state's Office of Fiscal Analysis, seven percent of all arrests in 2007 in Connecticut involved marijuana. About thirty percent of those involved less than one ounce, costing the state about $11 million.
Governor Jodi Rell has voiced strong opposition to decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. She's vetoed legislation that would legalize medical marijuana twice already.