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Norwalk Police Chief: Don't Decriminalize Pot

It will be harder to catch serious law-breakers if the Connecticut legislature has its way, according to Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling. That's one of the points that Rilling made recently in Connecticut's statehouse in opposition to proposals to decriminalize marijuana .

"I think that the legislature and the governor, quite frankly, have rushed this through without doing due diligence," Rilling said of the proposals. "When I asked 'what if' questions, they had no answers for me." That included, "What if you stop a car and you see someone who has a joint in the car?" Under current laws, police can search the car, because the person is guilty of a crime. "What do we do now?" asked Rilling, a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police National Committee on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs .

Rilling waited four hours to testify at the March 14 hearing on medical marijuana of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee because he strongly opposes all three of the bills that would lower penalties for marijuana use.

The fine for having an ounce of marijuana would be less than the fine for running a red light, he said, which would send a mixed message. "The programs that we have in place are always telling young people that marijuana is a gateway drug, as is alcohol," he said. "It leads to other things, especially if a person has an addictive personality or a metabolism."

Alcohol is harder to get than marijuana, he said. Drug dealers don't ask for ID. Studies show that when society relaxes the prohibition on marijuana, its usage goes up, Rilling said. When usage goes up, more young people will head to drug dealers, who have an interest in selling them other drugs, he said.

Norwalk residents who get busted for possession of drugs nearly always have another charge added: possession within 1,500 feet of a school. Rilling agreed that the law might be unfair but says the proposal to drop it to 200 feet goes too far. "Why not 1,000 feet?" he asked. "Why not 750, cut it in half? ... To reduce it 87 percent is absolutely irresponsible."

Ironically, decriminalizing marijuana might result in more of a stigma for some offenders. Anyone caught with a small amount of marijuana (as a first offense) can go on an accelerated rehabilitation program, and the record would eventually be expunged. If it's just an infraction, a record might exist somewhere that a potential employer may be able to access.

Nevertheless, Rilling said he thinks the bills will pass. "I think it's a slippery slope," he said. "It's a very, very sad day when those bills pass. The job is going to be made much more difficult for parents to convince their children that they shouldn't be doing these things."

Has Chief Harry Rilling changed your opinion? Comment below!

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