Cannabis activists want more criminal cases dropped and expunged from CT records.

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HARTFORD — Hundreds of people or more in prison, on probation or awaiting trial have been left out of the state's program to erase criminal records for cannabis possession and sales, Chief State's Attorney Patrick Griffin said Wednesday, promising lawmakers that he will soon confer with Connecticut prosecutors to draft an administrative order to help the effort.

Griffin told the legislative Judiciary Committee that the 2021 law legalizing possession and retail sales that began in January of this year was not retroactive in the order to expunge the criminal records of people prosecuted or jailed, suggesting that the General Assembly pass legislation this year making the law retroactive, while he confers later this month on administrative changes.

Griffin said it's hard to get a handle on exactly how many people would have their records cleared under the legislation, which would order the Division of Criminal Justice to cease prosecution of any pending cannabis-related cases and review those currently in prison or on probation to possibly modify their charges and penalties. He warned that another section of the proposed bill could violate the state Constitution's separation-of-powers rules.

"Are there currently pending charges against individuals in the state of Connecticut for possession of cannabis?" asked Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee who was a leading proponent of the 2021 law. "I would say the answer is yes," Griffin replied. "The conduct occurred before the passage of the bill. I will tell you very directly that I have had conversations with all 13 state's attorneys (and) that we are in agreement that what is legal today shouldn't be penalized because it occurred prior to the passage of the bill."

Stafstrom asked whether it would be easier for Griffin's department to do the expunging, to the which the prosecutor agreed. "When will that be accomplished by?" Stafstrom queried. Griffin said he is meeting with the prosecutors later this month.

"I know that there is a lack of prosecutors in the state and I'm concerned that actions are being undertaken to possibly prosecute cases that would be vacated upon conviction, basically," said Rep. Craig Fishbein, a top Republican on the law-writing panel. "I'm troubled. I think it was passed quite a long time ago and I don't know why this hasn't been addressed previously. People don't understand that sometimes there is a parade of horribles that follows those charges. Violation of probation can sometimes be attached to a criminal charge."

Earlier, during a morning news conference among cannabis advocates, Luis Vega owner of a Shelton hemp farm and Nautilus Botanicals in Bridgeport, said that as an approved social equity operator, he is prevented from hiring some people who could help his adult-use operation, but their criminal records prevent it.

"This should have been thought about last year," said state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, a proponent of cannabis reforms who appeared with other advocates including Vega.

"This is activity that we no longer believe should be criminalized," said Sarah Gersten, executive director of the non-profit Last Prisoner Project, to the committee. "This is activity that we know, both prohibition and the war on drugs, there's a large body of evidence to show that these crimes were designed primarily to marginalize and subjugate communities of color. But we now have the chance to remedy the fact that there are still tens of thousands of people across the country and here in Connecticut incarcerated, facing pending prosecution or serving terms of supervision for the exact same activity others are now able to profit off of in the state of Connecticut."

Gov. Ned Lamont, who signed the 2021 legalization bill, said as many as 40,000 people in the state would have their records erased starting at the beginning of 2023.  Twitter: @KenDixonCT