Chris Lemone, student outreach counselor at Staples High School, has his doubts about the benefits of Gov. Dannel Malloy 's proposal to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
"My big concern with this is, 'What's the message to young people?'" said Lemone, who's also the faculty adviser of the Staples Teen Awareness Group. "In working with young people surrounding drug and alcohol use, I'm concerned making a move like this. I don't want to say it will encourage people to smoke weed, but I don't think it will keep them from doing it."
Malloy wants the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to be reduced from a crime to an infraction. Currently, possession of less than 4 ounces can bring a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Malloy says offenders should pay just a $100 fine, saying that these cases waste law enforcement resources and stigmatize young people.
Though Lemone said he understands Malloy's intent to free up the courts and save tax dollars, he says this move would send the message that smoking marijuana is no big deal. "In my field, if we want someone, mainly a young person, to stop a certain behavior, sometimes we need them to suffer a consequence. And sometimes, getting arrested does the trick," he said. "By taking that away, I don't know what would scare them away [from bad behavior]."
The subject of the legality of marijuana hits home for Malloy. In 2007, police accused his son Benjamin of selling pot, and in 2009, Benjamin was arrested for robbing a Darien man of his marijuana while armed with a BB gun. Benjamin was sentenced to five years of probation for the robbery.
A measure similar to this was introduced in the state legislature in 2009, but fears that then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell would veto the bill prevented it from going to a full vote.
In a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 67 percent of Connecticut voters said they would approve the decriminalization of a small amount of marijuana and 32 percent were opposed.
Regarding the proposal, Westport Police Capt. Sam Arciola wouldn't comment on the department's viewpoint other than to say officers will enforce the law as it's written.
"If the law gets changed, it gets changed, whether we like it or not," he said.
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