LWV Launches Regional Study on Marijuana Decriminalization

The League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut has embarked on a regional study to examine the complex issue of whether to decriminalize marijuana. The study, in association with a state university, is in the planning stages and expects to include information from its chapter area comprised of 18 towns in southeastern Connecticut.

The local League decided that the issue, while under discussion in many states and nationally, warranted a neutral, regional study, the results of which would be brought to the entire membership of the southeastern Connecticut League for a consensus discussion to reach an official position. Members would then advocate for this position to voters and their state representatives. The process is demonstrative of one of the League's important overall goals of promoting participation and effecting change through the democratic process. The League takes no position on the issue during the study process.

Proposed Connecticut legislation this past session would have made it an infraction instead of a crime to possess a small amount of marijuana. The bill was voted out of the Judiciary Committee with a favorable vote, but it was sent to Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, where it died.

The League study plans to gather information from a web of research materials and individuals who represent institutions and groups that deal with marijuana on myriad levels. They include police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, corrections officials, educators, and medical professionals, as well as people incarcerated for possession and use of the drug, and those who treat and help prevent drug abuse.

League members and those interested in becoming members are encouraged to join in this wide-reaching study that will require many minds to gather and assess research information. The next meeting of the study committee is set for 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 19, at the East Lyme Community Center on Society Road. The League's study committee is looking at a range of questions to glean information from people who think marijuana should not be decriminalized and those who think it should.

Some of the areas of inquiry are: What is the law in Connecticut for possession and/or sale of marijuana and how does the law play out in real life? What are the arguments for keeping marijuana illegal? What have other states and countries done? How does the increased potency of marijuana play in the debate? What is the cost of criminalization? To society? To families? To taxpayers? How would costs change with decriminalization? What are the health issues associated with marijuana use? How much does it cost to effectively treat and prevent abuse of the drug? What is the cost of regulation?

The committee held its first meeting in Lyme in early July when it teamed up with Andrew Clark, director of the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University. Clark had organized a drug policy conference at the university earlier this year. The institute works to find regional solutions to common problems facing municipalities and brings together academics and students with state and national experts to work on immediate and long-range options. It conducts conferences and forums where information presented helps shape policy discussions at local, regional, and state levels.

Clark, along with institute Research Specialist Lyndsay Ruffolo and university student James Merckle brainstormed with the committee about the various ways to approach and conduct the study, offering their computer graphics skills and research expertise along the way.

In a second meeting in mid-July in East Lyme, the study committee talked about whether to conduct a regional survey and agreed to forward the fruits of those discussions to Clark and his associates. The group also discussed the creation of a standard set of questions for interviews and the compilation of a comprehensive bibliography of research materials.

The League also plans to hold panel discussions and public forums and ultimately expects to conclude with recommendations in the spring.

Rosanne Smyle of Stonington is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut and a member of the study committee on whether marijuana should be decriminalized. The group welcomes participants in the study, for which League membership is required. The League is a non-partisan political organization open to men and women over 18 years old. To join, call Marilyn Mackay at 860-535-1192.

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