State law reduces marijuana penalties

The state will use money raised through fines to fund drug treatment and education programs

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The new legislation aims to reduce punitive measures for possession and instead focus on treatment and education.

A law decriminalizing marijuana in Rhode Island went into effect yesterday. Under the new law, individuals caught in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will face a civil fine of $150 instead of the criminal charges possible under previous laws.

If an individual is caught with the drug three times within 18 months, the original penalty of $500 and up to a year in prison still applies.

Fifty percent of revenue collected from the fines will help fund drug treatment and education programs.

The Senate and House sponsors of the decriminalization bill in the General Assembly and spokespeople from Protect Families First, a nonprofit dedicated to progressive social policy, held a press conference yesterday to discuss the law’s positive implications.

The law will benefit young people because it will “prevent a youthful indiscretion from ruining a person’s life,” said Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton and Portsmouth, the House bill’s primary sponsor, in a press release.

Previously, criminal charges for possession could prevent people from finding jobs or volunteering in their children’s schools years after the arrest, he added.

Evidence also shows that prevention and treatment — not criminal penalties — are more effective methods of addressing teen drug use and will save the state money in the long run, said Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, the Senate bill’s primary sponsor, in the press release.

Spokespeople for Project Families First, including two Brown professors, advocated the legalization and regulation of marijuana at the press conference.

“There are a number of problems related to marijuana that can only be addressed by making marijuana legal for adults and creating a responsible regulatory system,” said Nickolas Zaller, associate professor of medicine at Alpert Medical School, at the press conference.

“Decriminalization is a sign that Rhode Island is beginning to take an evidence-based approach to marijuana policy,” said David Lewis, professor emeritus of community health and founder of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, at the press conference. He added that teen tobacco use is down across the country due to regulation, despite the substance’s addictive nature.

  • Robert Berlin

    These laws really would be very helpful in prevention of drug addiction & safety for human