Pelto: Legalize Pot—To Ease Up On Citydwellers

Decriminalizing pot may have made criminal-justice matters worse in cities like New Haven, so why not just legalize it?

That suggestion comes from a candidate for governor, Jonathan Pelto. He argued that Connecticut should follow Colorado and Washington and allow people to purchase and use marijuana.

Pelto made the argument the other day over a bottle of Pellegrino during an interview at Woodland Cafe in Sherman Alley, one in a series of discussions with candidates about urban issues in this campaign year.

Pot legalization turns out to be very much an urban issue, as cast by Pelto, who’s racing to collect enough petition signatures by Wednesday to earn an independent spot on the November ballot. (Click on the above video to watch him respond to the charge that he’s playing a Ralph Nader-like spoiler role that could cost Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to lose the election to a Republican.) In cities, unlike in suburbs, what should be a mere $150 ticket for possessing a small amount of weed too often turns into an arrest on charges of “intent to sell,” Pelto argued.

“Decriminalization is a small step. It might actually be a step in the wrong direction,” Pelto said. “If we’re going to do it, then let’s do it the right way.”

In the interview, Pelto staked positions generally to the left of the ideological spectrum—and, with the exception of some development and possibly school-reform initiatives, generally in line with New Haven’s liberal political culture. For instance:

• He called for fully funding the Payments in Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) program, which reimburses cities like New Haven for revenue lost on tax-exempt properties like hospitals and universities. He would phase in the 100 percent reimbursement over 10 years. Malloy and Republican gubernatorial candidate John McKinney said they’re open to discussing New Haven state Sen. Martin Looney’s bill to guarantee 50 percent reimbursement to cities like New Haven with the most tax-exempt property. Independent Joe Visconti called for abolishing PILOT. The PILOT law authorizes the legislature to send 77 percent of lost revenue back to cities and towns. In practice, it has been sending back only 33 percent of the money lost on hospitals and colleges, 22 percent lost on state-owned property. That’s one reason New Haven struggles each year to avoid tax increases without also slashing public services.

• Pelto called for raising income taxes on the wealthy—specifically hiking the rate from 6.7 percent to 8.7 percent on earnings over $1 million a year. He estimated that would raise an additional $800 million a year for state coffers; he also argued that had Malloy done that in 2011, instead of raising taxes on all earners except millionaires, none of the state’s current $1.4 billion deficit would have materialized. The other candidates do not support hiking taxes on the wealthy. Visconti called for raising corporate taxes on the largest companies as a last resort; McKinney released a plan last week to eliminate income taxes on households earning less than $75,000.

• In addition to supporting the vote this year to raise the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017, Pelto said he’d push for a further increase to between $14 and $16. McKinney and Visconti opposed the raise to $10.10, which Malloy championed.

Melissa Bailey PhotoOn two New Haven development projects Malloy has embraced this election year, Pelto said he needed to learn more before taking a position. He wasn’t familiar with the plan to rebuild the Dixwell Commuity “Q” House, for which Malloy has ponied up $1 million in planning funds and is expected to deliver another $15 million before Election Day. He took a skeptical stance on the request to spend $20 million in state bucks, which Malloy is also expected to deliver by election day, on street improvements to enable a developer to turn the old New Haven Coliseum site into a $395 million busy new-urbanist mini-city of apartments, stores, offices, a hotel and a public plaza.

Pelto said he generally opposes Malloy’s “corporate welfare” measures. For instance, he said, he would not have approved the $51 million state aid package Malloy put together to enable Alexion Pharmaceuticals to move from Cheshire to a new 11-story building in New Haven as part of the governor’s “First Five” jobs program, which Malloy touts as a job-protector and creator. Pelto argued that the First Five program doesn’t create jobs, but rather shovels public money to companies that would stay here anyway. The Alexion deal merely “moved jobs from Cheshire to New Haven,” he said. He said the First Five program has had “no accountability,” no rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

“It’s not the job of taxpayers to pick winners and losers in the private sector,” Pelto argued. He pointed to state aid for Pfizer’s New London development, which the company abandoned after 10 years.

Unintentional Weed Consequences

On marijuana, Pelto emphasized what he called a racial disparity in enforcement of current law. The state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana on July 1, 2011; rather than get arrested, people cited for possessing cannabis can be fined $150 for the first offense and between $200 and $500 for the second. Often cops just look the other way. In New Haven, decriminalization prompted a collective “What took so long?” shrug.

Since then, Pelto said, decriminalization has had a disproportionate “racial and economic impact.”

“Suburban kids are being treated very differently from urban kids,” he said. “... In suburban areas they’re just slapped on the wrist.”

By contrast, Pelto said, people stopped in cities for possessing small amounts of marijuana are more likely to end up arrested on charges of intent to sell, leaving them with criminal convictions that make it harder for them to get jobs.

“The solution is to go ahead and legalize small amounts of marijuana” and have the criminal-justice system “deal with the more important drugs” that people need help staying away from, Pelto argued. He didn’t take a stand on how specifically to roll out a system to regulate the sale of marijuana. “We’re learning from Colorado. Connecticut will have the benefit of seeing how it’s done,” he said.

Click here to watch McKinney address the marijuana issue ...

... and here to watch Visconti. Foley spokesman Chris Cooper said the candidate does not support legalization. A Malloy spokesman failed to respond to requests Sunday for comment.

New Haven state Rep. Roland Lemar said he, too, supports legalizing marijuana (“though I think it should be a regulated product similar to alcohol or tobacco”). He said he hasn’t heard complaints from constituents about the abuses Pelto cited. He disagreed that decriminalization has made life worse for blacks and Latinos.

“Do I believe it is possible that some cops and prosecutors might try to ramp up some charges against a few folks? Yes, I believe that is possible, (though no one has actually ever contacted me to say that has happened) and we should be vigilant in protecting against that type of law enforcement abuse,” Lemar stated in an email.

“But what was happening before was far worse—countless numbers of people (overwhelmingly African-American or Latino) were being arrested for truly trivial crimes that had no impact on anyone. Thousands of our residents had been arrested, sometimes prosecuted, for possession of literally one marijuana cigarette. Those arrests and prosecutions would be used against them in future judicial proceedings, employment screenings, and more. What a colossal waste of taxpayer resources while being a lifelong black mark on someone’s record for a crime with no societal cost.”

State ACLU Executive Director Andrew Schneider, whose group supports legalization, also said he hasn’t “seen evidence that decriminalization has caused police to pursue intent-to-sell charges more aggressively, but if that were happening it would almost certainly have a greater impact on minorities because drug laws have always been enforced more harshly in minority communities. If that’s happening, it’s a very unwelcome pattern and we’d be greatly concerned about it.”

Charter Foe

Pelto (pictured), a former political insider, has made his name in this campaign as not just a potential anti-Malloy spoiler, but a Jeremiah prophesying agains the evils of charter-school oriented school reform. That has made him a critic of recent school developments in New Haven, and a skeptic of the city’s grand school-reform efforts in general.

Pelto, who’s 53, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1984. He rose to the position of deputy political director of the state party. He left office a decade later to become a political consultant. In the past couple of years he has carved out a career as a blistering anti-charter-school blogger and coach of other education bloggers. He has savaged Malloy’s school-reform efforts—like his attempt to end teacher tenure—as well as the governor’s continued embrace of charter schools and the Common Core curriculum.

A working ally of national charter critic Diane Ravitch, Pelto called the latter two examples of the “privatization” and “corporatization” of public schools to use high-stakes testing to funnel tax dollars to charters that cream students and leave more expensive special-ed and non-English-speaking students behind for traditional public schools. (The charters deny that charge.)

“You create a system in which there will be an unlimited number of ‘failing’ schools” with charters seen as the remedy, Pelto said.

His alternative includes investing more in dual-language and required unionization, certification of teachers, and acceptance of special-ed students in any nontraditional schools.

Most immediately for New Haven, Pelto said he would have turned down the application by a Dixwell church to open a charter school called Booker T. Washington Academy. The state granted the charter. Then the church’s partner, called FUSE, got caught up in a scandal and dropped out; the state Board of Education planned to meet Monday to consider a last-minute revised application to allow the school to open this month as planned with a new partner.

He called the last-minute effort to approve a new proposal an example of the lack of accountability in the charter process. “There was a process. They were chosen because FUSE was their partner,” he said. “These no-bid contracts and expedited review processes are a bad idea.”

More broadly, Pelto argued that New Haven’s charters have “contaminated” the city’s school-reform drive, which has been praised nationally (including by teachers union President Randi Weingarten) for avoiding the ideological pitfalls of more charter-centered and standardized-testing drives in other cities. New Haven has experimented with a wide range of models for failing schools, from a teacher-union-run school to a charter-managed school to “turnarounds” in which principals can choose their own teachers and change some rules such as the length of the school day.

“Because you had the charter schools playing such a dominant role, I’m not sure it is the testing ground it could have been if they had done it within the public-school system,” he said.

Melissa Bailey PhotoPelto said he didn’t object to New Haven experimenting with having a charter company manage one school, Clemente Leadership Academy; the city did not renew the contract in that experiment. “It was worth trying. It didn’t work,” he said.

Melissa Bailey PhotoInstead, he called the relationship between the Board of Education and the charters too close—because New Haven’s mayor sits on both the Achievement First charter board as well as the traditional Board of Ed; and because a charter champion, Alex Johnston, sits on the Board of Ed. (He’s pictured with Mayor Toni Harp at a school board meeting.) The mayor started sitting on the Achievement First board, and Johnston ton the Board of Ed, under former Mayor John DeStefano as part of an agreement to have the city share ideas with the charters rather than continue fighting with them.

He also criticized a principal training program run for the city schools by Achievement First. He argued that one University of Connecticut or Southern Connecticut State University should have run the program.

Nor did Pelto applaud New Haven’s method of evaluating teachers, which the teachers union helped devise. Failing teachers are given extra support to try to improve; then, if they continue to rank low according to a panel of observers chosen by both administrators and the union, the system fires them. The teachers union has not yet challenged any of those firings. Pelto said rank-and-file teachers still oppose the process because it relies in part on standardized test scores and because administrators, who can play favorites, need more training in how to do evaluations.

Other gubernatorial candidates on urban issues:
Dan Malloy
John McKinney
Joe Visconti
Tom Foley

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posted by: Anderson Scooper on August 4, 2014  8:59am

The political differences between Foley and Malloy are tremendous.

If you lean left, but decide to lodge a protest vote against Malloy and for Pelto, please be honest and realize you’re helping to elect Tom Foley, a Bush crony who is rabidly anti-union.

Had Pelto waged his protest campaign as a Democratic primary, I maybe would have voted for him, as there are real criticisms against Malloy. Instead what Pelto doing is nothing but the act of an egotistical ass, and you almost wonder if he isn’t getting paid by the GOP.

Finally, it is worth noting that Governor Malloy should move left if re-elected, as he still has further political aspirations.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 4, 2014  9:42am

The only one who profits from Decriminalizing pot are the crooked Hedge funders.

Wall Street sees opportunity in marijuana
Hoping to cash in if pot becomes legal nationwide, entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors.

posted by: HewNaven on August 4, 2014  10:38am

Malloy needs to come out in support of cannabis legalization or he will lose this election.

posted by: robn on August 4, 2014  1:43pm

I disagree with Pelto that decriminalizing marijuana does more harm than good. Making possession a misdemeanor will keep many young people out of our crowded prison system and allow them to possibly build a life. As far as legalization, Lemar has it right; it should be regulated for adults like alcohol.

I disagree with ALL candidates on PILOT. The state constitution from the early 1800s granted what we now know as non-profit status to institutions like hospitals and universities with the reasoning that they are for the greater common good of society. The legislators of that era could not have contemplated the mid-20th century legislature abolishing county government and associated taxation, nor could they have contemplated the collapse of most other industries and the rise to prominence and land ownership of tax free institutions. If non-profits are for the greater good, the state should eliminate the PILOT concept and directly reimburse non-profits for their tax burden (which should rightly be paid to localities.)

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 4, 2014  2:30pm

posted by: Anderson Scooper on August 4, 2014 8:59am

The political differences between Foley and Malloy are tremendous.

Dan Malloy is also teacher anti-union.

Had Pelto waged his protest campaign as a Democratic primary, I maybe would have voted for him, as there are real criticisms against Malloy. Instead what Pelto doing is nothing but the act of an egotistical ass, and you almost wonder if he isn’t getting paid by the GOP.

You say a vote for Pelto is a vote for foley.I
say,Those who vote for Democrats or Republicans perpetuate the corrupt, dishonest and elitist plutocracy that preferentially serves the interests of the Upper Class and a multitude of special interests.The problem is the donkey and the elephant symbols of the two dominant political parties are tied at the hip.Both Republican party and Democratic party are the same.We need to untie the donkey and the elephant and put them out to Pasture.Both of them are rotten to the core.

My Bad If everyone voted for Pelto,Then you would not have to worry about Foley and Malloy.

posted by: Walt on August 4, 2014  4:47pm

Your vote cholices re pot gives no one an opportunity to support continued criminalization with or without allowances for needed medical; treatments

Kind of biased isn’t it?

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 5, 2014  4:02pm

I am Pro legalization. It should never of been made illegal; but the greed of the rich made this happen for so many reasons.

I am not in favor of taxing it…but I think that it is the only way it will be made legal is if money is to be made.

I think JP has the right idea on the pilot. Not sure how doable it is. But we all want it to be 100%

AS - I am still voting for Pelto. I think he stands a really good chance. He is the better candidate for the people. Beside what you are saying is don’t vote for the guy you want because the guy you hate will win…and better to have the guy you hate less in office? hmmm I know Malloy will win. But I can not vote for these people anymore…the party is OUT OF CONTROL.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on August 5, 2014  5:08pm

@Cedarhill—yes, I am suggesting that you don’t waste your vote on Pelto, and that you hold your nose and vote for Malloy, (who will lose if too many people share your political math.)

This isn’t a primary, and it’s not a beauty contest. It’s a vote for who will be Governor of Connecticut until January 2019,—and it’s going to be close. If it weren’t going to be close, or if the stakes weren’t so high, by all means you shouldn’t hesitate to vote for your favorite. But this has all the makings of Florida 2000, and I don’t think you should mess around with Pelto.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 5, 2014  9:26pm

AS - I am a dem…but I have watched my party (mostly locally) stomp on, use, lie to the people. The worst thing I have witnessed repeatedly is the FEAR TACTICS they use to stop people from voting for the better candidate. I have seen some things within our party that made me ill. I have lost respect for the New Haven Dem party that voting party lines is out the window for me. We have had some great candidates pushed out the door by our party for all the wrong reasons and we as a city lost because of it. So I have decided NO MORE. I have to vote for who I feel will be the better candidate that will represent me.
That is me. Your shtick will work on many. I am to jaded at this point. I vote for the better candidate. I think Johnathan is that.

posted by: Xmichael on August 6, 2014  12:09am

There will always be dummies who will want to do drugs. I think we should take the cash flow away from the cartels, and free up some of the justice system, as national and state policies. The government should get into the business of growing, harvesting, and producing drugs, with professional standards, right down to the packaging, for sale in a safe environment, with the governments collecting the entire cash flow. The drugs should be decriminalized to the extent that it’s legal to buy it, and to have it on your person, so long as it was purchased at a government store. I would not liberalize the legal use of drugs. All current standards of sobriety and keeping it out of the hands of minors would remain. After all, we lost the war on drugs 40 years ago.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on August 6, 2014  2:01am

It is hard to believe that Mr. Pelto has strong convictions on any issue that would benefit the citizens of Connecticut. The man has openly stated the only reason he has involved himself in this run for Governor is to spite the Governor, who did not award him a patronage post, with a six figure salary paid by the taxpayers, for his efforts in the Governor’s last campaign. Now he is running for a post he really does not want, funded by the Foley campaign, to assist Foley’s attempt to acquire the Governor’s office (which he intends to exploit to the benefit of his own portfolio, and the estates of all his millionaire friends.) This guy has the character of a snail (sorry even a snail has more character, and does more public good than this phony will), and could give “two sh**ts” about the public good!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 6, 2014  8:28am

Two wolves and a sheep between them. No matter how much you vote and choose both parties have only one thing in mind, how they can advance their own power and exploit you.

posted by: robn on August 6, 2014  8:57am


These are big statements. Can you link us to your source of the issues you mentioned?
1) Where did Pelto state that he’s running against Malloy because Malloy didn’t hire him?
2) Where is there evidence that the Foley campaign is funding Pelto?

posted by: robn on August 6, 2014  9:07am

Pelto’s contrarian stance is appealing but there’s a logical flaw in what he said in the video. He said something like Democrats losing the governors race would be a wake up call and make them come back to ignored constituents like public employees and property tax payers.

In my opinion, the wants of these two constituencies are in opposition. You can’t increase the already large payroll of public employees and at the same time reduce the highest-in-nation property tax burden faced by property owners.