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Connecticut Joint Committee Approves Marijuana Resentencing Bill For People Still Incarcerated Post-Legalization



Connecticut lawmakers have approved a bill to provide sentencing relief to people who are still incarcerated over marijuana despite the state enacting legalization.

The legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation from Rep. Josh Elliott (D) on Monday. SB 444 would create a pathway for the dismissal or sentencing reduction of cases involving cannabis offenses that have since been made legal.

People who are incarcerated, on probation or participating in diversionary programs for marijuana possession, paraphernalia possession or distribution would be eligible to have their cases reviewed and potentially discharged.

The committee co-chair, Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D), said during Monday’s hearing that while “the goals of this bill are very laudable,” he considers it a work in progress with logistical issues related to identifying eligible cases. However, he agreed to hold a vote because lawmakers were facing a legislative deadline to advance the measure from committee to keep it alive for the session.

“I think we’re still struggling with how to actually effectuate this bill—the intent of this bill—given the recognition that, frankly, a lot of our drug possession offenses were categorized as the same and it would really take some manual work to go through the records to determine whether someone was charged with, say, possession of cannabis as opposed to possession of heroin or cocaine or some other controlled substance,” he said.

“So I think this bill, unfortunately, probably still has some work and a little bit of an uphill battle in terms of what the cost of this might be for the agencies to effectuate this, but we will vote it out today,” he said.

Rep. John Kissel (R), ranking member on the committee, said that he appreciates advocates’ intention to “clean up records, especially for low-level typically marijuana possession offenses.” However, he said it is “unfortunately” the case that implementing the reform would prove challenging for procedural reasons.

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) estimates that approximately 1,200 people would be eligible for relief under the bill. And according to the state Department of Corrections, the state would save $2,500 on average per person released under the legislation.

“It is fundamentally unjust that as some individuals are able to build wealth in the new cannabis industry, others are still serving criminal sentences for cannabis,” Adrian Rocha, a policy analyst at LPP, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday. “All of the agencies and lawmakers that have weighed in on the bill from across the aisle have agreed that the policy at hand is laudable.”

“Although Connecticut’s criminal legal data system may not allow for a fully automated procedure, we strongly believe that the countless families across the state whose lives have been permanently altered by past prohibition policies should not bear the consequences of poor data-keeping practices,” he said. “This session, we owe it to families across the state to finish the job by creating a sentencing modification procedure that allows individuals charged under outdated laws to have their sentences reevaluated in light of legalization.”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

An earlier version of the legislation was not ultimately enacted last year, but state prosecutors did heed to call for mass relief, dismissing more than 1,500 marijuana cases, while modifying about 600 others.

The Judiciary Committee also met last week and approved separate legislation to decriminalize psilocybin.

Meanwhile, on the one-year anniversary of the opening of the adult-use marijuana market in Connecticut in January, state officials announced that 2023 saw more than a quarter-billion dollars ($274 million) in total sales between the recreational and medical cannabis markets combined.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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