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Chafee decriminalizes pot possession in small quantities

Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 signed into law June 13 a bill decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, making Rhode Island the 15th state to lessen the punishment for individuals found possessing small quantities of marijuana. Starting April 1, 2013, individuals caught with small amounts of the drug will face fines of $150 and have their contraband confiscated, though 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.

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.

Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton and Portsmouth, who proposed the original legislation in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, said the new legislation allows 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 comes on the heels of a revision to the state's medical marijuana law, which could bring three dispensaries to Rhode Island as early as September.

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.


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