State Rep. Jason Perillo, a Shelton Republican, opposed a bill that would reduce the size of drug-free zones around schools and daycare centers from 1,500 feet to 300 feet throughout the state.
Some legislators have said in larger cities, the current law can include entire neighborhoods and even entire sections of a city because of dense development, lessening the deterrent impact and unfairly exposing people in certain areas to harsher criminal penalties.
Perillo said the legislation essentially involves “lessening the penalty for the dealing of drugs. That’s all we are doing. The penalty for dealing drugs 1,000 feet from a school will be lower. Let’s not fool ourselves that it does anything else.”
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Click below to see a video of state Rep. Jason Perillo speaking on the legislation in the state House of Representatives:
Perillo said that idea is not supported by his constituents. “My community doesn’t want to see a reduction of the 1,500-foot drug-free zone around schools and, if you asked them, they probably wish it were larger,” Perillo said.
‘Who is this legislation helping?’
Advocates of the bill have suggested that in most densely populated urban neighborhoods, the entire geographic area of a community can fall within a demarcated “Drug-Free Zone,” therefore reducing the likelihood that drug dealers will feel any additional restraint from the law that acts as motivation to avoid schools and daycare centers. Perillo rejected the argument.
“We should be asking ourselves is who is this legislation helping,” Perillo said. “This bill doesn’t help children who are walking home from school or out on the playground. It doesn’t help the parents who are trying to keep their children safe from these criminals. Instead, this bill helps drug dealers.
“It purports to solve an urban problem,” he continued, “but reduces this zone in every community across the state regardless if they are urban or suburban. Drug dealers are a predatory scourge that won’t be removed by lowering criminal penalties on them.”
The current state law
The current penalty for using or possessing with intent to use drug paraphernalia (other than in relation to less than one-half ounce of marijuana, which is decriminalized for adults) is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in prison, a fine of up to $500, or both.
Delivering, possessing or manufacturing them with intent to deliver is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of $2,000, or both.
The enhanced Drug-Free Zone penalties mandate one year in prison for using illegal drug paraphernalia in a designated zone, two years in prison for possession, and three years in prison for selling, manufacturing or distributing.
House approves, but on hold for now
By a vote of 78-65, an amendment that became the bill was approved in the state House of Representatives despite opposition by all Republicans and a handful of Democrats.
After lengthy debate, the bill, HB 6511, An Act Concerning the Recommendations of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission Regarding the Enhanced Penalty for the Sale or Possession of Drugs near a Schools, Day Care Centers, and Public Housing Project, was “passed temporarily,” meaning it was withdrawn from debate for now but could be brought back at any time before the state Legislature adjourns at midnight on June 5.