State Senate backs cutting penalties for drugs

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HARTFORD — The state Senate has approved legislation that would make drug possession a misdemeanor for the first two offenses and establishes other changes in criminal justice policy.

The legislation approved on a 22-14 vote early Wednesday requires third and subsequent convictions to be punishable as felonies.

Gov. Dan Malloy made his so-called Second Chance criminal justice changes a priority. Republicans embraced parts of the Democratic governor’s initiative, part of an effort to send fewer nonviolent criminals to prison while helping former inmates reintegrate into society.

Sen. Len Fasano, the Senate’s Republican leader, said drug use is a public health issue, not a criminal matter.

The legislation also maintains the state’s 1,500-foot drug-free school zones for convictions for sale and possession. Convictions in school zones will require jail time, not mandatory minimums.