Jessica Giannone, General Assignment Reporter:
In support of Gov. Malloy’s marijuana decriminalization bill, SB1014, Southern’s Student Government Association is the second in the state, behind the University of Connecticut, to endorse it, with a vote of 12-4 by the SGA.
The bill’s proposal is to decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, which would count as an infraction, rather than a misdemeanor.
“We’re pretty sure it’s going to go through,” said Co-President of Southern Students for Sensible Drug Policy and SGA Representative, Thomas Hils.
Hils has been working with UConn SSDP President and Undergraduate Student Government Senator Sam Tracy throughout the endorsement process, which Tracy said has gone “pretty quickly.”
UConn’s USG voted in support of the proposal four weeks ago with a vote of 30-1.
Tracy said the main benefits of the bill would be cost savings, pointing out that a large majority of possession charges end up leading to fines in “the end,” so just starting with a fine would save the state over $30 million a year in court costs and legal fees, as reported by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis at the capitol.
If the bill passes, Tracy said it will impact students by fining them immediately, instead of arresting them and ending up with a fine after weeks or months of court appearances, which he said will save offenders from a “long, drawn-out” process of “uncertainty and anxiety.”
A leading factor in the push to pass the bill, which Hils brought up, is the fact that students are denied federal aid if they have a drug conviction on their record.
“You shouldn’t be punished your whole life for one mistake,” said Hils.
He said the state has better things to be concerned about.
While the Aid Elimination Provision of the Higher Education Act of 1965 prevents a student with a drug conviction from receiving federal aid, other crimes, such as murder, do not.
Tracy said it is “simply” a commonsense solution to the state’s problems, especially in today’s “budget climate.”
“If there is a policy that can save $30 million a year,” said Tracy, “and not raise the rate of marijuana use, it would be unethical not to support it.”
Hils said the biggest hurdle was getting rid of the stereotype of cannabis use, seeing as some people don’t feel that legalization is the right route. He said when approaching people on the topic, it is done in a “very neutral” manner, and people typically see where he is coming from in the end. Hils said he found that few people were resistant to decriminalization.
“We think that we’re taking a very sensible route,” said Hils, as he noted he “honestly couldn’t say” there are negatives.
Tracy said, while many claim the decriminalization will increase marijuana use, since it lowers the penalties, studies and statistics say that is “simply not true.” He went on to say marijuana’s sale and possession is still illegal, so no one new would start using just because the penalty is different.
“Treating it as a criminal thing is a bit too much,” said Hils.
Tracy said his organizations have been reaching out to the campus and state media, as well as working with student leaders from other colleges in order to help them get similar endorsements passed in their student governments. He said in just a few hours, they gathered “hundreds upon hundreds of signatures.” He said, however, with UConn being a state school, it is difficult to make changes on campus until there is action at the state level.
Hils said Southern has been very receptive, and has received a lot of help from UConn. He said some promotion was done at the campus as well, such as the distribution of flyers, e-mails and information on how to contact a legislator.
“It’s something I feel passionately about,” said Hils. “Finding a new way is beneficial for us as a community.”
Tracy said he thinks the bill has excellent chances of passing, especially with the support of Gov. Malloy.
Hils said it would be rewarding to be able to know he made a difference in peoples’ lives.
“We hope it’s a strong step in the right direction, and we hope that students will feel the same way,” said Hils.