Connecticut To Emerge As One Of Few States Willing To Extend Welfare Benefits To Marijuana Felons

Legislative leaders proposed that individuals convicted of marijuana felonies should remain eligible for entitlements such as welfare and food-stamps, despite a federal law passed last year allowing states to deny assistance-based benefits.

“There’s no reason to single out drug offenses from all others,” state legislator Ellen Scalettar told the New York Times on May 29. “Punishment [for drug offenses] shouldn’t go on forever.” The newspaper reported that conservative governor John Rowland also supports the effort.

Senate Amendment 4935, introduced by Sen. Phil Gramm on July 23, 1996, allows states to deny federal cash aid and food stamps to anyone convicted of felony drug charges, including most individuals found guilty of marijuana cultivation or sale. The bill is not retroactive and only applies to future convictions. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on August 22, 1996.

NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup stated that Gramm’s provision inappropriately targets marijuana smokers and applauded Connecticut’s decision to extend federal benefits. “Under current federal law, a murderer, rapist, or robber could receive federal funds and benefits, but not most individuals convicted of cultivating marijuana — including those who do so for a legitimate medical need. It is commendable that the Connecticut legislature is injecting some common sense to an irrational federal policy.”

Connecticut’s decision to offer the benefits would set it apart from 24 other states that have proclaimed they will no longer offer entitlements to drug felons, a recent survey by the National Governor’s Association found. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, and Rhode Island — plan to continue the benefits to drug offenders who qualify for family welfare, the survey reported.

The Connecticut General Assembly is expected to approve the language as part of a major welfare-reform bill in a special legislative session this summer.

For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.