Northeast Connecticut police departments don’t expect the recent changes in Massachusetts marijuana laws to affect the way they do their jobs.
On Nov. 8 Bay State voters approved a citizen’s petition legalizing marijuana in the state, though a delay in voter certification will likely put off the Dec. 15 implementation.
"Connecticut law doesn’t change with this new law," Plainfield Police Chief Michael Surprenant said. "In our state, marijuana is still illegal. It’s an infraction for small amounts and more serious charges for larger amounts."
Possession of small quantities of marijuana – less than a half-ounce – became an infraction, rather than a misdemeanor charge in Connecticut in 2011. Rather than a $1,000 fine, a criminal record and possible jail time, offenders now pay a $150 fine for a first offense and $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses. Possession of larger amounts, especially if packaged for sale, is still a felony offense.
"States all have different laws and penalties – an assault in Connecticut could be an assault and battery in Rhode Island," Surprenant said. "But if someone goes across the Massachusetts border to buy marijuana and comes back with it, that’s still illegal here."
According to the new Massachusetts law, it will be legal to smoke marijuana or consume THC-laced food inside your own home. Residents can grow a certain number of plants and legally possess up to 10 ounces at home, or up to one ounce in public.
In Putnam, which has the closest Northeast Connecticut municipal police force to the Massachusetts border, Police Chief Rick Hayes said he’s been keeping a close eye on the drug law change.
"I’m hoping it won’t change the way we operate, but there is the issue of a trickle-down effect being so close," he said. "People in Connecticut see it’s legal in Massachusetts and ask ‘Why not here?’ And that could lead to more people driving impaired back-and-forth over the border."
Hayes said Colorado, which legalized pot for recreational use in 2012, provides some examples of potential issues with legalization.
"They saw more instances of emergency room visits by children consuming edible marijuana, which can be baked into cookies, brownies or candy," he said. "And for younger people, it can be difficult to know exactly what kind of dose is in those products. There are also cases of residences being turned into grow houses, which use a lot of electricity and heat lamps leading to more fires. My hope is those kinds of things won’t happen."
Police officials said they don’t anticipate the law change to prompt a flurry of cross-border marijuana trafficking.
"We don’t plan to post patrols at exits looking for that kind of thing," Surprenant said.
State police at Troop D in Danielson, who regularly patrol the border, said they don’t plan to change their patrol configurations in response to the Massachusetts law change.
"We don’t see a lot of marijuana coming in and out of the state from the north," Troop D commander Lt. Tim Madden said. "If something does change, we will reevaluate and adjust."