On Friday, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chaffee signed legislation that will decriminalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the state. This makes Rhode Island the fifteenth state to sign such legislation.
Senator Joshua Miller and Representative John G. Edwards sponsored the bill, which makes possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a fineable offense. For the first two offenses, a civil penalty of a $150 fine is imposed. For a third offense within an 18 month time period, the possession is considered a misdemeanor and can result in jail time.
Of the bill’s passing, Representative Edwards said, “I’m very happy the governor has decided to support this legislation. I am hopeful that this will allow our law enforcement officials to do what they do best – solve real crimes. I’d also like to thank Senator Miller, who worked with me on this legislation and on the Senate study commission, and all the groups that helped us bring about this change.”
According to Senator Miller, the differences between Rhode Island’s decriminalization law and the laws of other states are critical to its success. He believes that Rhode Island’s law could be used as the model for a nationwide decriminalization of marijuana. Senator Miller explained, “This legislation maintains the spirit of the policy with adjustments that factored in concerns from the judiciary, law enforcement officials and the community. That’s why we have the third strike turnover. If you possess an ounce or less within 18 months of a prior offense, it gets treated as a misdemeanor.”
Half of the money made through the new fines will be put toward youth education and treatment programs in the state. The focus of the new system is rehabilitation and education, rather than incarceration. Senator Miller stated, “The community much prefers to have our young people in those types of programs as opposed to incarceration, and it’s important that we preserve their access to education and employment.”
The new law will go into effect in the state in April 2013.