Ask David Marcus whether he knows anyone who likes marijuana, and he'll tell you he went to Caltech. His "random sample" of marijuana users from college shows that smoking pot isn't a big deal. "They're all filing patents and are incredibly productive members of society with a hobby," he said.
That's part of the reason Marcus supports one of Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposals: a plan that would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a crime to an infraction. Currently, possession of less than 4 ounces is subject to up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Malloy is seeking to reduce that to a $100 fine, saying that these cases waste law enforcement resources and stigmatize young people.
The subject of the legality of marijuana hits home for Malloy, whose son Benjamin was accused by police in 2007 of dealing and was arrested in 2009 for robbing a Darien man of his marijuana while armed with a BB gun. Benjamin was sentenced to five years probation for the robbery.
The state legislature's Judiciary Committee approved a similar decriminalizing proposal in 2009 but fears that then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell would veto the bill prevented it from going to a full vote in the General Assembly. 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, with 32 percent against the idea.
Finding Norwalkers in favor of Malloy's plan is easy, but few wanted to be quoted by name. Four people Monday afternoon said it was a no-brainer, saying that enforcing marijuana rules wastes the police department's time. But no one wanted his or her name to be used in this story. Marcus, who lives in South Norwalk, agrees that police resources would be better used to fight the violent crime "that is terrorizing the city."
"As far as I know our last several presidents have all admitted to using marijuana," he said. "Very few people say, 'Oh, they should have been locked up for engaging in their youthful indiscretions.' Not to minimize the public health aspect."
But Ginger Katz, who founded the Courage to Speak Foundation after her son Ian died from a drug overdose, is against Malloy's plan. "You make it a slap on the wrist, drug use is going to go up," she said. "You think you're saving money but you've got to be very careful with this."
Her own "random sampling" of drug users is much more grim than the Caltech graduates: Katz has a support group for parents who have lost children through drug overdoses. She said 80 parents have joined the group, and all of their children started with marijuana before moving on to more serious drugs. She said 4 ounces of marijuana is enough for 30 joints. "It's really the wrong message to send to kids," she said.
Marcus didn't think any studies have proven a link between marijuana usage and addiction to more serious drugs. "I think there's many steps down that road," he said. "I mean, you can probably not find a heroin addict who has not tried marijuana. If you're OK with doing heroin, for sure you're probably OK with doing a joint or smoking a cigarette."
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