Gov. Chafee Signs Bill Making Rhode Island the 15th State to Remove Criminal Penalties for Small Amounts of Marijuana
Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island on Wednesday signed legislation that will reduce the penalty for possession of marijuana to a $150 civil fine for most offenses.
Last week, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted in support of the two identical bills that will make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction, similar to a parking ticket, and will remove the criminal penalties that currently exist. Minors found with marijuana, in addition to the civil fine, will be sentenced to drug education courses and community service.
Marijuana possession is now punishable in Rhode Island by up to a $500 fine and up to a year in jail. The new law will go into effect on April 1, 2013.
“Gov. Chafee’s signature is the culmination of a years long effort to put some common sense back in our marijuana laws,” said Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston), lead Senate sponsor. “Rhode Island will now address marijuana use among our youths with education and treatment, as opposed to incarceration, increasing our chances of stemming the abuse of drugs and alcohol.”
|Representative John G. Edwards|
|Rep. John G. Edwards: “This change means that a youthful indiscretion will no longer prevent a responsible adult from finding gainful employment”|
Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Portsmouth/Tiverton), lead sponsor in the House, agreed with his colleague. “This change means that a youthful indiscretion will no longer prevent a responsible adult from finding gainful employment,” Edwards said. “A dumb mistake can no longer be used as grounds for withholding federal student aid or jeopardizing future employment. Everyone in Rhode Island benefits from this change in law.”
“Gov. Chafee’s approval is yet another concrete example of the mainstream support for sensible marijuana policy reform,” said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana P9olicy Project (MPP). “Two-thirds of the Rhode Island public supports this proposal, as does more than two-thirds of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
“Support for marijuana policy reform is real and growing every day,” Capecchi said. “I commend Gov. Chafee and his team for supporting policy that is both popular and reasonable.”
MPP led the lobbying and grassroots effort in support of the twin bills.
Rhode Island joins a growing wave of marijuana policy reform in states across the country. 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. Most recently, Gov. Cuomo of New York suggested decreasing the penalty for possessing less than 25 grams of marijuana in public view.
There are now 15 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession. State-level reform efforts are coinciding with increasing public pressure for the federal government to reconsider marijuana prohibition.
For more details on the new law, visit www.mpp.org/RIdecrim.