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Marijuana decriminalization bill approved by House

Hartford -- A marijuana decriminalization bill cleared the state House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon by a 90-57 vote and is expected to become law.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he will sign the legislation, making Connecticut the 14th state in the country to adopt decriminalization for cannabis possession. The Senate passed the measure Saturday.

The bill reduces the penalty for possessing less than a half ounce of marijuana from a crime with a potential prison sentence to a $150 violation on the first offense. Second and subsequent offenses carry a $200-$500 fine, and third-time offenders must enroll in a drug education program at their own expense.

To further deter youths, violators under age 21 will have their driver's licenses suspended for 60 days. Those who don't yet drive would have to wait an additional 150 days to obtain their license.

Under current state law, individuals holding less than 4 ounces of marijuana could face a fine up to $1,000 for a first offense and imprisonment of up to a year. In practice, however, most first-time offenders pay a fine closer to $200 and jail time is extremely rare.

Second or subsequent offenses carry fines fine up to $3,000 and up to five years in prison. And it's a mandatory two-year prison sentence if possession happens within 1,500 feet of a school or day care center, unless the offender is a student at the school.

Malloy said he applauds the House's vote.

"Final approval of this legislation accepts the reality that the current law does more harm than good – both in the impact it has on people's lives and the burden it places on police, prosecutors and probation officers of the criminal justice system," the governor said in a statement.

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