In July of this year, the state of Connecticut decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The new law states that the punishment for an adult over the age of 21 who possesses less than one-half ounce of Marijuana will be considered a civil infraction, and result in a $150 fine with additional fines for subsequent offenses. This law was put into place to reclassify marijuana offenses as a low-priority issue, and to allow police officers to focus their efforts on more serious crimes in the state. The University of Connecticut (UConn), the flagship public university for the state, convened a meeting to determine their own actions regarding decriminalization and decided against changing their policies in conjunction with the state.
UConn’s chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) formed a task-force to find solutions to the school’s reluctance. As a student government Senator, I got in touch with the leader of the task-force, Michael Gallie, to hopefully aid him with his search for an answer to the issue, and from there the group had decided to bring legislation before the Undergraduate Student Government, the governing body in charge of student issues. The Residential Affairs committee took up the cause, and drafted a bill to be presented to the Senate.
The main issue of the bill was a change in Residential Life policy, whereas police involvement is mandated whenever a student is believed to have marijuana in his/her possession in their dormitory. SSDP and the Residential Affairs committee agreed that the policy should be changed to an internal investigation, an action that is used for under-aged alcohol possession in the dorms. The two groups also agreed that there should be an Online Module dedicated to making students aware of the school’s policies regarding illicit drug possession, so that students could be informed of the procedures the school uses.
After creating the legislation, the race was on for information to back up the bill. The co-authors of the bill had their student government connections to get in touch with university administration, held meetings with other local student activists, and used social-networking sites to gain support from their fellow classmates. After it was clear that UConn SSDP wanted clear figures to show the administration, the leaders of the group created a petition to gauge the student interest. In 2 weeks, almost 1,000 signatures were collected, and a plan was being readied to bring the bill to Senate.
When the day came for the vote (yesterday, November 16, 2011), tensions were high. Myself and two other Senators presented the bill to the room of roughly 100 people. After the reading of the bill, debate raged for almost two hours. Questions ranged from public employee involvement in criminal cases, and investigation procedures for the school. Debate was closed very suddenly, and a vote was to commence. The final vote tally was read as 24 in favor to 7 opposed with 5 abstentions, which was followed by a roar of cheers from the back of the room. The bill will go onto the President of the Undergraduate Student Government to sign, and on to the university administration for official review.