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Hartford, CT criminal defense lawyer for marijuana possession and DUIThe marijuana laws in the United States seem to be in constant flux. Some states have legalized this drug for medicinal and/or recreational use, while in others, it remains illegal to use, possess, or distribute, and doing so can lead to drug charges. Connecticut residents may be unsure about the state’s marijuana laws, especially since the laws have also changed recently in some nearby states. 

Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, New Jersey voted to legalize the drug in 2020, and it is rumored that New York and Rhode Island are soon to follow. Connecticut’s Governor, Ned Lamont, has stated that marijuana legalization may be on the state’s legislative agenda for 2021, and the taxes generated from legal sales of the drug may help make up the state’s budget deficit. However, until new laws are passed and go into effect, it is important for Connecticut residents to understand how the state’s laws address marijuana.

Marijuana Decriminalization and Medical Marijuana Use

Currently, the recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Connecticut. However, the state has decriminalized possession of small amounts. A person who possesses less than half an ounce of marijuana will not face criminal charges, but they will instead be fined $150 for a first offense and between $250 and $500 for any subsequent offenses. Possession of one half of an ounce of marijuana or more is a Class A misdemeanor, and a conviction can be punished by up to one year in prison and up to $2,000 in fines.

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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorneySince the 1990s, many states across the country have legalized marijuana for medical use, but it was not until just a few years ago that recreational marijuana was legalized. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first two states to legalize the recreational sale, possession, and use of recreational marijuana. Since then, there have been nine other states that have legalized recreational marijuana; however, it still remains illegal on the federal level. One of the biggest oppositions to fully legalizing marijuana is the fear that legalization will increase crime. However, just the opposite is one of the reasons people want to legalize it; they think it will reduce crime.

Studies Show Crime Rates Are Either Unaffected or Decreased

According to the Reason Foundation, studies have been conducted in various states that have legalized recreational marijuana to determine what effect, if any, the legalization has had on the crime rate. In Washington state, the number of adults over the age of 21 who were arrested for marijuana possession fell by 98 percent, while the number of those under the age of 21 convicted of possession fell by 50 percent. In Colorado, the number of cases of illegal marijuana cultivation, distribution, and possession fell by 85 percent. Other states such as Alaska and Oregon have seen similar situations.

The Reason Foundation also states that jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for medical uses have also seen a decrease in the number of opioid overdoses. Other studies have found that property crime has not increased as some people feared it would. In fact, property crime actually fell in neighborhoods in Colorado that opened marijuana dispensaries.

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Hartford DUI defense attorney marijuana impairmentThe United States has a long and complicated history with cannabis. Back in colonial times, hemp -- which is a non-intoxicating strain of the cannabis plant -- was a very important crop for early settlers. Virginia even passed a law in 1619 requiring every farm in the colony to grow hemp. By 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed and effectively banned the sale and use of marijuana, though the act was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s.

Now that 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, the prevalence of marijuana-related DUI is of concern to lawmakers across the country. In the state of Connecticut, medical marijuana is legal, but recreational marijuana is not legal -- yet.

Current Connecticut Marijuana DUI Laws

Like most states, Connecticut’s laws concerning DUI mostly refer to alcohol, but they do mention drugs as well. According to Connecticut law, operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating drug is illegal. Penalties for a drug DUI can vary, depending on the circumstances of the case. For a basic DUI charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, a conviction can get you up to a six-month jail sentence, $500 to $1,000 in fines, and a 45-day driver’s license suspension, with the requirement that an ignition interlock device be installed in the driver’s vehicle for one year after the conviction.

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marijuana, Connecticut personal injury lawyerVoters in Massachusetts approved a referendum in 2016 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the commonwealth. It took more than two years, however, for lawmakers to come up with a structure and regulatory system that would allow for legal retail sales. Last week, the first retail stores finally opened with a great deal of fanfare. In fact, in the town of Northampton, the town’s mayor was the first in line to make a purchase at one of the new dispensaries.

While the debate over recreational marijuana has largely focused on criminal laws—and the differences between laws at the state and federal levels—there are other important concerns as well. Two separate studies recently found a statistically significant increase in car accidents in states that have legalized recreational cannabis. Given the geographic proximity of Massachusetts to Connecticut, motorists in the Nutmeg State may have reasons to be worried.

Crash Rates on the Rise

Both studies were presented at the Combating Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving summit hosted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in October. The first study was conducted by the IIHS’s Highway Loss Data Institute and compared crash rates in states where recreational use of marijuana is legal to neighboring states where recreational use is not. Using crash data from 2012 to 2017, the study found that the rate of accidents rose by about 6 percent in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada compared to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. The time period was chosen because recreational use was first legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

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marijuana-medical-test-rulingImagine a scenario in which you are applying for a job. You pass the interview stage with flying colors, and the hiring manager is ready to bring you on immediately. The only thing you have left to do is pass a pre-employment drug screening. You are not worried because everything you currently take has been prescribed by a doctor who is licensed to practice in your state. When the screening results come back, however, they show that you have a particular drug in your system—one that you even told your prospective employer about beforehand. As a result of the test, your job offer is rescinded. Sounds pretty unfair, does it not? This is exactly what happened to a Connecticut woman in a situation that shows just how far we have left to go as our country tries to figure out exactly how to handle medical marijuana.

A Quick Background

In 2016, a woman was recruited and applied to work at a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Niantic, Connecticut. The woman’s interviews went well, and she was offered the position of Activities Manager pursuant to a pre-employment drug test. Prior to the screening, she informed the hiring manager that she was a registered patient under Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA)—the state’s legal medical marijuana program. She had been in an accident in 2012 and was currently using a prescribed pill form of marijuana at night to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

As she expected, the drug screening did indicate the presence of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. What she did not expect, however, was the rescinding of her job offer. The nursing home decided they could not hire the woman because they used the federal list of legal drugs, and marijuana is not a legal prescription under federal law. The woman subsequently filed a lawsuit for employment discrimination under PUMA, which specifically prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on an applicant’s status as a registered medical marijuana user.

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