Rhode Island cannabis advocates have reason to cheer today as Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession into law.
The law will change the current law and possession of up to an ounce a civil violation with a $150 fine. The new law also dictates that three such violations within an 18 month period would be a misdemeanor with larger fines and and possible prison. The law will take effect April, 1st 2013.
Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that this proposal will save the state of Rhode Island up to $11 million dollars annually. In addition, allowing law enforcement to issue a simple citation as opposed to making an arrest for marijuana possession will free up law enforcement time to prevent, investigate, and solve crimes of violence and against property. Finally, by ending the draconian practice of criminalizing simple possession, many Ocean Staters will be spared from being labeled criminals for non-violent behavior — a label that carries a host of terrible collateral consequences.
Earlier this month, the Rhode Island General Assembly overwhelming approved bills that would — for most offenses — remove the threat of jail time for the simple possession of marijuana. The companion bills — S2253/H7092 — would replace the current criminal charge for simple possession — up to a year in jail and/or up to a $500 fine — with a $150 civil offense.
Individuals under the age of 18 would be subject to the same civil violation and would also be required to attend a drug education course as well as perform community service. A third marijuana possession offense within 18 months could result in a misdemeanor conviction punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.