R.I. to decriminalize small amounts of pot

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 signed into law a bill decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana June 13, making Rhode Island the 15th state to lessen the punishment for individuals found possessing small quantities of the drug. Starting April 1, 2013, individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana will face fines of $150 and have their contraband confiscated, but the incident will not appear on the individual’s criminal record. Under current law, possession – a misdemeanor offense – could result in the offender’s incarceration for up to one year, as well as a $200 to $500 fine. The state will use half of the money gathered through fines to fund drug treatment and education programs.

Though the new law relaxes the punishment for possession, it includes a three-strike rule, whereby if an offender is caught with the drug three times in an 18-month period, the individual will be subject to the original penalty. If the individual is under the age of 18, the new law requires that the police notify his or her parents.

Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton and Portsmouth, who proposed the original legislation in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, said the new legislation allows an individual to avoid a criminal record for “something that could be a youthful indiscretion.”

A conviction for possession of marijuana would almost certainly prevent someone from being able to work as a teacher or a fireman or in any state job, Edwards said.

Chafee’s approval of marijuana decriminalization came on the heels of a revision to the state’s medical marijuana law, which is slated to bring three dispensaries to Rhode Island as early as this month.

The Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency still classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning the federal government can continue to punish anyone possessing any quantity of the drug with up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

  • Anonymous

    R.I. has some sense to it, unlike Florida. The Hard*ss State.

  • Jillian Galloway

    I think that the vast majority of Americans have had enough of this prohibition nonsense. When the government forced the marijuana prohibition onto us in 1937 they promised that it’d eliminate marijuana use and make people safe. But after more than seventy years it hasn’t achieved either of these goals!

    In fact by shutting down the legal supply of marijuana while at the same time being totally incapable of curbing demand for the herb, the government has created a massive black market for marijuana that draws drug dealers into our neighborhoods and makes our children LESS safe.

    We should NOT have laws that create more harm than what they prevent! It is unconscionable for our elected officials to perpetuate the failed prohibition on marijuana that *increases* crime and *decreases* the safety of our children!!

    We need to END the marijuana black market and the easy access that it gives kids to marijuana by letting stores sell legally-grown marijuana to adults at prices low enough to prevent illegal competition. We need to legalize marijuana like beer and wine!