PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island House and Senate just voted in favor of twin bills that would reduce the penalty for possession of marijuana to a $150 civil fine for most offenses. H 7092 and its companion bill, S 2253, would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction, similar to a parking ticket, and would remove the criminal penalties that currently exist. Marijuana possession is now punishable in Rhode Island by up to a $500 fine and up to a year in jail. These bills received overwhelming support in both chambers, passing with a vote of 50 to 24 in the House and 28 to 6 in the Senate.
"I am proud of my colleagues for voting to replace a criminal penalty and possible jail time for marijuana possession with a more sensible civil fine,” said Sen. Josh Miller, one of the bill sponsors. “This unique policy change is something our state can do to immediately help our citizens. It will still punish marijuana use, while avoiding the harsh collateral consequences that come with a criminal conviction that can ruin Rhode Islanders' job, education, and housing prospects. It will also save our state millions in enforcement costs and help to educate our at-risk youth.”
"Now that the legislature has acted, I urge Gov. Chafee to sign this bill without delay,” said Rep. John G. Edwards, another sponsor. “It is unfair to label non-violent and non-destructive citizens as criminals simply because they possess a small amount of a substance that has been proven safer than alcohol. Additionally, allowing law enforcement to issue a simple citation for marijuana possession — as opposed to having to make an arrest — will give our state law enforcement more time to devote to policing, preventing, and solving crimes of violence and against property, ultimately making our streets safer."
“At a time when Rhode Island municipalities are laying off police officers and experiencing severe budget problems, it makes no sense to waste scarce resources arresting simple marijuana users,” said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “By signing these bills into law, Gov. Chafee can take a significant step toward increased fiscal security, public safety, and sensible justice. Rhode Islanders deserve to be treated as fairly as their neighbors when it comes to marijuana policy.”
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Last year, lawmakers in neighboring Connecticut passed a law to remove criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana. Massachusetts’s voters approved a similar ballot initiative in 2008 by an overwhelming margin. There are currently 14 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession, and 12 of them have done so through their legislatures.