Speakers Urge Rhode Island To Decriminalize Marijuana


Photo: WPRO
Wife, mother, PTA member — and marijuana user — Catharine Leach, right, testified on Tuesday before the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee

​​”Look at me, and tell me I should go to jail,” Catharine Leach said to the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Leach — who described herself as a wife, mother and PTA member — also described herself as a marijuana user who has used it daily for more than 10 years.

The 29-year-old office manager from Warwick, R.I., was one of nine people to testify for a bill which would decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, reports Randal Edgar at the The Providence Journal. The bill would add Rhode Island to a list of about a dozen states that have relaxed their cannabis laws for recreational users.
“It’s like coming home and having a glass of wine after a hard day,” Leach said, except that she runs the risk of jail, while “the drunks don’t go to jail for their vice.”

Photo: Zazzle

​​Some speakers mentioned the higher arrest rates for minorities, even though marijuana use in many instances appears to be higher among whites.
“You can’t separate race from the drug war,” said Bruce Reilly of Direct Action for Rights and Equality. Reilly said it was time for the War On Drugs to be scaled back.
“If we can’t scale back over a bag of weed, we’re not going to scale it back anywhere,” he said.
“There is no evidence” that marijuana leads to harder drugs, according to another speaker, Nick Zaller, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University. He also said there is no evidence that marijuana use increases in states that legalize the herb for medicinal purposes, as Rhode Island has, or in states that decriminalize recreational possession.
Under current Rhode Island law, possession of any amount of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by a minimum fine of $200, a maximum fine of $500, and up to a year in jail.
The state could save $11.2 million a year by decriminalizing marijuana and avoiding the costs of arresting, detaining and prosecuting people for having small quantities, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston).
Meanwhile, Kathleen Sullivan of the Barrington Substance Abuse Task Force claimed that decrim could lead to a perception among young people that marijuana is not harmful. (It would be just horrible to tell them the truth, now wouldn’t it?)
“Young people have gotten the message” that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous, Sullivan, said. But with marijuana, “They don’t believe that that’s a risk at all,” she said. Maybe these silly young folks have been wasting their time reading scientific studies, or something.
The committee voted to hold Senate Bill 0270 for further study. Miller sponsored the same measure last year only to see it held in committee. But the Cranston Democrat said he has 19 cosponsors this year, and a similar bill in the state House has 40 cosponsors.