Small Amount of Marijuana Possession Decriminalized in Rhode Island

A new Rhode Island law will go into effect April 1, 2013, that provides for lower penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. First- or second-time possession of this small amount will no longer be a criminal drug offense that could draw up to a year in jail and a $500 fine, but simply a civil violation comparable to a traffic ticket.

The fine will be $150 for each of the first two violations, but a third citation within 18 months means that possession will become a misdemeanor criminal offense that could result in jail time and a larger fine.

In changing its marijuana possession law, Rhode Island is in step with neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut. The move to change the law drew widespread support across political lines. Public polling showed that 65 percent of likely voters believed in decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Dr. David Lewis, veteran community health professor at Brown University, observed that in states that had decriminalized marijuana possession, there had not been a significant increase in marijuana use, reported StoptheDrugWar.org.

The emphasis will now be on public health rather than punishment. Drug awareness education and community service, besides the fine, will be required for minors under age 18 who are caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. Under the new law, half of the money collected in fines will be allocated for these youth programs. Dr. Glenn Loury, professor of social science and economics at Brown University, commented to StoptheDrugWar.org that this approach, along with parental involvement, improved than jailing young people.

Advocates for drug reform celebrate the reform. However, law enforcement and the courts will still go after anyone in possession of significant amounts of marijuana possession, and drug trafficking carries significant punishment. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if charged with a drug crime to protect your rights.