In 2012, Rhode Island passed a law to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This law is currently in effect as of April 1, 2013. This is not an April Fools joke, but rather an effort that Senator Joshua Miller, D-representing Cranston, and state Representative Jay Edwards, D–representing Tiverton and Portsmouth, have been working to pass for the past five years. A first-time offender who possesses one ounce or less of marijuana will now see a $150 civil fine, and no jail time. An individual who is charged with possession three times in 18 months, however, must pay the original $500 civil fine, and will most likely spend a year in jail.
The implications are huge. The law hopes to debunk the “forbidden fruit” nature of the drug, which is why many young adults may find it so appealing in the first place. Perhaps more importantly, a portion of the money collected from fines will now go towards drug treatment and education programs. Now that possession is no longer criminal, it is hoped that people can seek proper treatment rather than becoming lost in the criminal justice system. This will save the state a great deal of money down the road by relying more on prevention and less on incarceration.
This also prevents a young adult’s record from being destroyed by a single mistake. Prior to this law, being charged with possession could seriously hinder an individual’s ability to get into schools, obtain jobs, or even secure volunteer opportunities. College students charged with marijuana possession were also considered ineligible from receiving federal financial aid.
So what’s the next in RI marijuana policy? Perhaps finding a way to control illegal drug trafficking and intervening with the black market so that youth have less access to illegal substances. We will have to wait and see.