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Connecticut Legislature Passes Revised Drug Bill


July 1997

On June 27, Connecticut Governor John Rowland (R) signed Public Act 97-248, a major drug policy revision bill, after it was stripped of its controversial measures. The bill was approved by the Senate with a 34-2 vote on June 4, and by the House with a 146-1 vote on June 5 (Jonathan Rabinovitz, "Effort to Stress Drug Treatment Is Weakened," New York Times, June 6, 1997, p. B8; Jon Lender, Matthew Daly, and Maxine Bernstein, "Campaign-finance reforms expire; school-readiness measure passes," The Hartford Courant, June 5, 1997; Maxine Bernstein, "Stripped-down drug bill wins Senate passage," The Hartford Courant, June 4, 1997; see "Connecticut Legislature Considering Overhaul of Drug Laws," NewsBriefs, May-June 1997).

Before the Legislature passed the measure, provisions for the decriminalization of marijuana, and the elimination of the mandatory minimum sentences were removed from the bill. The provision for the establishment of methadone maintenance programs was modified to eliminate the requirement that prisons set up such programs. The final measure provided only for a small pilot program for doctor-prescribed methadone. The drug court measure was limited to first time offenders.

Opposition from lawmakers in both parties forced these compromises. "What began as an 800-pound gorilla is down to a 30-pound chimp," Chief State's Attorney John Bailey said. "If it hadn't been changed, it would have given Connecticut the most liberal drug laws in the country, and it's clear that the people of this state did not want that."

"This legislature wasn't ready to implement all kinds of new changes," said state Representative Ellen Scalettar (D-Woodbridge). "But we have opened up the discussion about our drug policy," she said. Representative Mike Lawlor (D-East Haven), co-chairman of the judiciary committee, said "This is not about decriminalizing drugs or changing laws. It's a matter of changing attitude."

Rep. Lawlor told NewsBriefs that some provisions eliminated from the drug policy bill were enacted in other legislation. For instance, in its welfare reform bill, Connecticut, pursuant to Federal law, exempted itself from the federal prohibition for life of anyone convicted of a drug felony from receiving federal assistance such as welfare or Food Stamps. As part of its victim's rights bill, Connecticut will give first priority to criminal cases that involve physical violence. Rep. Lawlor added that state lawmakers are planning summer meetings to further discuss other provisions of the drug policy bill that were taken out, such as the elimination of mandatory minimums.

For a copy of the text of Connecticut's new drug policy law, please contact the NewsBriefs office.

Rep. Mike Lawlor's Office - (203) 469-9725.