A bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts marijuana cleared the legislature's powerful finance committee Tuesday and now goes to the Senate.
The committee voted 31-20 to approve the measure after about 45 minutes of discussion.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton who is one of the leading critics of decriminalization, offered several amendments, including one that would have toughened the penalties. But she failed to gain enough support to amend the bill.
The bill would make the penalty for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana or less akin to receiving a speeding ticket. The punishment would be a fine rather than face criminal penalties.
For a first offense of possession of a half-ounce of pot, the penalty would be no more than $90, less than the fines for littering, illegal fishing, having a defective muffler or damaging trees on state property, Boucher said.
Supporters of the bill say it would free up the resources of an overburdened court system to deal with serious crimes. Massachusetts and New York already have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.
Boucher questioned that argument, saying it would not be the cost-saver proponents predict.
She also said it was "hypocritical" of the state to move toward decriminalizing marijuana just a day after another legislative committee approved a ban on the opening of new hookah lounges in the state.
Boucher also said the decriminalization bill was nothing more than an effort by the legislature to begin legalizing pot possession. "If that's something we really want to do, it would be much more honest to just say so," she said.
The legislature's judiciary committee already has approved the decriminalization measure. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy supports the measure, unlike his predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, who vetoed a similar bill in 2009.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at