This week Connecticut joined eighteen states, two U.S. territories and the District of Columbia in passing adult-use cannabis laws. Every policy that helps end Prohibition is an historic achievement. S.B. 1201 also made significant strides in harm reduction for people under 21.
The Connecticut bill signed into law on June 22 legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for adults 21 and older has also broken significant ground for young people. With the implementation of SB1201, residents under 18 will no longer face arrest for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
The bill authorizes minors to possess up to 5 ounces of cannabis, or a total of six products containing up to 7.5 grams of concentrate or 750 mg of THC (such as in vapes or edibles).
Connecticut youth still face some penalties for possession. A first offense will result in a written warning and potential referral to social services. A second offense requires that referral to be made if it wasn’t already. Drug courts will not be involved.
The system mimics New Jersey’s newly adopted policy for youth cannabis possession. Though law enforcement still plays a role, this model is widely considered the most progressive among states with legalization policies in place, because it diverts young people from involvement with the carceral system at large.
The bill also legalized at-home cultivation by adults 21 and over, which indirectly helps families by preventing the state from criminalizing parents and guardians for homegrowing cannabis. Of the 15 states with adult-use legalization, 12 permit homegrow.
“Activists that came before me changed laws that made it possible for me to go to college.”
Students are key beneficiaries of the bill. Jason Ortiz, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), has been advocating for legalization in Connecticut since his arrest there for marijuana possession at age 16. He was able to attend and graduate college after the Souder amendment was changed in 2006, ending the exclusion of people who incurred drug charges as minors from eligibility for federal financial aid.
“People who come after me won’t have to suffer the same thing, and that affirms how important policy change is,” Ortiz told Filter. “Activists that came before me changed laws that made it possible for me to go to college. I went to college, learned amazing things and used that knowledge to free others.”
Under the new legislation, Connecticut students will no longer face penalties for the detection of cannabis in drug tests, and possession of under 4 ounces will not impact their financial aid. They will also be protected from discrimination against use of medical cannabis. Additionally, schools must rewrite their policies on cannabis penalties to be equivalent to their policies on alcohol by January 2022.
“[This law] tells all the educational institutions in the state to re-evaluate their policies,” Ortiz said. “This creates a giant community conversation of what schooling and safe communities look like in 2021, now that we are transitioning out of the War on Drugs.”
A decade ago, critical decarceration actions like expungement and resentencing were left out of initial cannabis legislation in Connecticut. Over the years, groups including SSDP, CURE CT, United Food and Commercial Workers and Working Families Party have all fought for social equity in the state’s cannabis reforms. SB1201 reflects that larger movement.
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