A January 25-26 Public Policy Polling survey found strong support for marijuana policy reform, including more than two-to-one support for reducing the penalty for possession of marijuana to a $150 civil fine. Marijuana possession is now punishable in Rhode Island by a $500 fine and up to a year in jail.
Of those polled, an overwhelming 65 percent supported decreasing the penalties for simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by removing the possibility of jail time and making the offense a civil citation. Such a change received support from across the political spectrum, with 73 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans, and 60 percent of independents in favor of the measure.
Two bills, H 7092 and S 2253, have been introduced in the Rhode Island House and Senate to remove the threat of arrest and jail for personal possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
A majority of Rhode Islanders would like to go beyond the reforms proposed by H 7092 and S 2253.
Of those polled, 52 percent would like to see all penalties for personal possession and use of marijuana removed and marijuana treated in a manner similar to alcohol, where it would be taxed, regulated, and sold in state-licensed stores to adults over the age of 21. This idea also received bipartisan support and was backed by 55 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans.
Legislation to establish such a system will likely be introduced in Rhode Island this year.
"As this polling demonstrates, the public is clearly aware that marijuana prohibition is failed policy and they are ready for change," said MPP Legislative Analyst Robert Capecchi. "The people of Rhode Island understand the need for sensible marijuana policy reform.
"Ending marijuana prohibition would created entire industries with hundreds of jobs, allow the government to collected needed revenue from responsible sales, and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors through thorough regulations," Capecchi said.
The poll also showed that a clear majority (72 percent) of respondents continue to approve of Rhode Island's medical marijuana law that allows seriously ill individuals to use marijuana to treat their conditions.
Seventy percent believe Governor Lincoln Chafee should implement the 2009 law that allowed the establishment of three non-profit compassion centers to provide medical marijuana to registered patients in the state. Gov. Chafee has delayed the opening of these centers, however, forcing patients to grow their own medicine or acquire marijuana from the illicit market.
For a complete copy of the survey of 714 Rhode Island voters with crosstabs, please visit: mpp.org/RIpoll.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a marijuana-policy-reform organization in the United States, has been responsible for changing most state-level marijuana laws since 2000. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.