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The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
.I NAME: 318.rpt
.I COMP: 3/7/97
.I REVW: COP000
.I PAGES: 4
.I TITLE: POSSESSION OF ILLEGAL DRUGS
.I NOTES: PA
March 7, 1997 97-R-0318
FROM: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Attorney
RE: Possession of Illegal Drugs
You wanted to know how Connecticut’s laws on illegal drug possession compare with those of neighboring states. You were specifically interested in whether the punishment permissible under our statute is more or less severe than that of neighboring states and whether a person convicted of mere possession is more likely to be incarcerated here than in those states.
The statutorily authorized penalties for possession are more severe in Connecticut than in neighboring states. New York’s penalties are the most lenient. The percentage of people incarcerated for possession of illegal drugs is greater in New Hampshire than in any other state surveyed.
We compared Connecticut’s statutes on illegal drug possession to those of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. For ease of comparison, we looked at the most commonly used drugs: marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. All of these states, except New York, treat simple possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor and impose virtually the same penalty. New York does not classify simple possession but the penalty, a fine of up to $100, more closely resembles that of an infraction. New York, which authorizes a maximum penalty of three months imprisonment, a $2,000 fine, or both, is also the most lenient with respect to possession of cocaine and heroin. Connecticut’s penalty of up to seven years imprisonment, a $50,000, or both is the harshest.
Despite the statutorily authorized sentences for possession, courts have the authority to order defendants to participate in diversionary programs. In Connecticut, pretrial diversion programs include accelerated rehabilitation and youthful offender. Connecticut courts may also sentence defendants who plead or are found guilty to nonprison programs such as probation, drug treatment, and the Community Service Labor Program. We have not discussed any pretrial diversion programs or possible post-trial sentences, other than incarceration, in this report.
We contacted the National Center for Drugs and Crime, the National Center of State Courts, and each state’s correction department, court administrator, and legislative research office to find out the number of people prosecuted and incarcerated for possession. Of the states contacted, Connecticut was the only one to keep statistics on the number of prosecutions by offense. Only Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont had incarceration information readily available. Massachusetts does not keep statistics by offense, there is no central repository for this information in Maine where people convicted of possession are more likely to end up in one of their 16 county jails, and New York did not return our call. For these reasons, it is impossible for us to draw any conclusion on the state in which a person convicted of possession is more likely to be incarcerated. But we did find that, among the states reporting, New Hampshire has the largest percentage of people incarcerated for possession.
CONNECTICUT DRUG POSSESSION CRIMES
It is illegal for any person to possess or have under his control any narcotic, hallucinogenic, or other controlled substance. The penalty for simple drug possession in Connecticut depends on a number of different factors, including the amount and type of drug, where the criminal act takes place, the offender’s age, and whether the criminal act was a first or repeat offense. The statutorily authorized sentences for drug possession range from up to one year imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both for a first offense of possession of less than four ounces of marijuana to up to 25 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both for three or more convictions for possession of narcotics. Penalties for all drug possession crimes are enhanced when they occur within 1,500 feet of a school or licensed day care center. Table 1 shows the drug possession crimes, the Connecticut General Statutes citation for each offense, and the authorized penalty.
Table 1: Drug Possession Crimes
DRUG POSSESSION LAWS IN OTHER STATES
The penalties for illegal possession of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin vary by state. For purposes of comparison, we have included penalties for the lowest classification of possession in each state. These classification are sometimes based on the quantity of drugs possessed because there is a presumption of furnishing or distribution when large quantities are involved. All of the states included in this report, except New York, treat simple possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor. Cocaine and heroin possession are treated more harshly. Table 2 shows each state and the statutory penalty for possession by drug type.
TABLE 2: PENALTIES FOR ILLEGAL DRUG POSSESSION IN OTHER STATES
*The law specifies that first offenders must be placed on probation and that the case be dismissed upon successful completion.
INCARCERATION FOR POSSESSION
Table 3 shows the number of people incarcerated for possession of illegal drugs by state compared to the total prison population. These numbers are not broken down by drug type; thus, they represent all inmates serving time for illegal possession.
TABLE 3: Incarceration for Illegal Possession
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