By a vote of more than 2 to 1, members of the Rhode Island General Assembly today approved legislation to significantly reduce the state’s criminal marijuana possession penalties.
Members of the House and Senate passed twin bills, House Bill 7092 and Senate Bill 2253, which amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 years or older is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense — punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. You can read NORML’s testimony in favor of these measures here.
House Bill 7092/Senate Bill 2253 now await concurrence votes, after which time they will be sent to Gov. Lincoln Chafee. [Update: In a radio interview this morning, Gov. Chafee stated that he is ‘inclined’ to sign the measures into law. Read the full summary of Chafee’s remarks here.] If you reside in Rhode Island, you can contact Gov. Chafee on behalf of these measures here.
According to a 2012 statewide poll, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 65 percent of Rhode Island’s residents are in favor of decriminalization. In recent years, neighboring Connecticut (in 2011) and Massachusetts (in 2009, via a voter-approved initiative) have enacted similar marijuana decriminalization laws.
Rhode Island lawmakers have previously approved legislation legalizing the possession and state-licensed distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Presently, in eight states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon — the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by an adult is defined under the law as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska law imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.
In all other states, marijuana possession for personal use remains a criminal offense — punishable by an arrest, potential incarceration, and a criminal record.