Just days after New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to decriminalize minor marijuana possession in public, neighbor state Rhode Island may be following suit.
A bill that would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will go to the floor of the House and Senate chambers of the General Assembly tonight. The measure would make it so adults caught with small amounts of marijuana would be subject to a fine, rather than arrest and jail time.
Currently, any amount of marijuana possession is an arrestable offense, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. Should the decriminalization bill pass, first offenses would considered violations, punishable by confiscation of the marijuana and a $150 fine. If someone is arrested for marijuana possession 3 times in an 18 month period, they will then face 30 days in jail. These decriminalization measures would not apply to people who were caught driving under the influence of marijuana in Rhode Island– they would still be subject to arrest.
Under the bill, people who are caught in possession of amounts of marijuana over the one ounce will still be subject to arrest because it exceeds the “personal use” limit, meaning that it is likely that they are distributing it to others illegally, rather than just using it themselves. In addition, minors who are caught with marijuana will be required to complete a drug awareness program and perform community service.
Sponsor of the bill, Representative John G. Edwards, said that the purpose of the bill is to eliminate the impact of what he refers to as “youthful indiscretions” on one’s criminal record, that could have the potential to impact hireability or student loan eligibility in the future.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Rhode Island since 2006, but decriminalization efforts have faced more resistance, with a similar bill having been defeated in the General Assembly last year.
Edwards has faith, however, that this year there is enough bipartisan support in order to get marijuana decriminalization legalized in Rhode Island. One of the factors which may have changes lawmakers’ minds is that Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institute is over capacity, with over 300 people in intake. Decriminalization efforts would stop low-level marijuana offenders from being subjected to jail, which has the potential to be costly for the state.
Other nearby states, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, have already decriminalized low-level possession of marijuana. Of this, Edwards stated, “Our citizens are being penalized, when you can go across the border and won’t face those same charges.”
The General Assembly will hear the proposed bill this evening.