Rhode Island's Marijuana Decriminalization Law Takes Effect Monday

PROVIDENCE – Possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer carry criminal penalties in Rhode Island when a legislation signed into law last year decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses takes effect on Monday, April 1.

Presently, possessing cannabis in the Ocean State is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine.

Starting Monday, the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 years or older is a non-arrestable civil offense, punishable by a maximum fine of $150 but no jail time, and no criminal record.
S 2253/ H 7092, sponsored by Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. John “Jay” Edwards and signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee last June, replaces criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana with a $150 civil fine similar to a traffic ticket.

If the offender is under the age of 18, his or her parents or legal guardians will be notified and he or she will be required to complete an alcohol and drug education course, as well as perform community service, in addition to the fine.

Fifty percent of the fines collected by the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal will be directed toward drug education and treatment programs.

“We applaud the legislature and Gov. Chafee for answering Rhode Islanders’ call for a more sensible marijuana policy. Nobody should be subject to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” said Roert Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the decriminalization law last year.
“There is still work to be done and we are pleased to see there is growing support among legislators for more comprehensive marijuana policy reform. Until marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, sales will remain uncontrolled, and they will continue to prop up drug cartels instead of legitimate Rhode Island businesses. Repealing criminal penalties for marijuana possession slows the bleeding, but repealing marijuana prohibition will heal the wound.”

Fifteen states have enacted similar decriminalization laws. Three states — Alaska, Colorado, and Washington — impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Decriminalization bills have been introduced in several states this year, including Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Texas, and Vermont.

Additionally, bills to legalize the adult use of marijuana have been introduced in several other states, including Maine, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

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