|Photo: Senator Joshua Miller|
|Sen. Joshua Miller: "I think it's an appropriate time for Rhode Island to act"|
Senate Bill 0270, scheduled for a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, would make possession of an ounce or less of cannabis a civil offense, punishable by only a $150 fine, reports Randal Edgar of the Providence Journal.
The fine would double repeatedly over time, up to a maximum of $1,000 if it remained unpaid, but there would be no other criminal or civil punishment, except for repeat offenders who -- on their third offense -- could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Sen. Miller, who last year chaired a commission that studied the issue of decriminalizing cannabis, said on Monday that he hopes the time spent studying the issue, along with the experience of other states, will lead to success this year.
"We had a study commission which recommended these reforms," Miller said. "We've now gone beyond two years since Massachusetts enacted similar legislation. It's one of those issues where we sat back and looked at the failures of past approaches and the successes of reforms that have taken place in Massachusetts and other places.
"I think it's an appropriate time for Rhode Island to act," Miller said.
Miller said he and Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Tiverton), who has introduced a similar bill in the Rhode Island House, may try to come up with matching language in their bills to increase the chances of passage in both chambers.
Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor publishable by a minimum fine of $200, maximum fine of $500, and up to a year in jail under current Rhode Island law. However, the Miller commission heard that "few people" go to jail in the state for cannabis possession alone (one, of course, is too many).
While supporters of marijuana decrim say the change would save money and is part of a national trend towards relaxing cannabis laws, opponents have predictably tried to claim that such a change makes pot more legally and socially acceptable for young people, as if it isn't already.
Thirteen states, including neighboring Massachusetts, have decriminalized possession of "small amounts" of cannabis, according to the Rhode Island Senate press office.
For a copy of Rhode Island SB 0270, click here [PDF].