Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Returns to R.I. Senate

It was just one year ago that Sen. Joshua Miller’s bill to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana got held up in committee, but the Cranston Democrat is hoping for a different result this year as his bill makes an encore appearance.

Senate bill 0270, scheduled for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, would make possession of an ounce or less a civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine. The fine would double repeatedly over time, up to a maximum of $1,000 if it remained unpaid, but there would be no other criminal or civil punishment, except for repeat offenders who, on their third strike, could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Miller, who chaired a commission last year that studied the issue of decriminalizing marijuana, said Monday that he hopes the time spent looking into the matter and the experience of other states will lead to passage this year.

“We had a study commission which recommended these reforms. We’ve now gone beyond two years since Massachusetts enacted similar legislation,” he said. “It’s one of those issues where we sat back and looked at the failures of past approaches and the successes of reforms that have taken place in Massachusetts and other places. I think it’s an appropriate time for Rhode Island to act.”

Miller said he and Rep. John G. Edwards, D-Tiverton, who has introduced a similar bill in the House, may try to come up with matching language in their bills to increase the chance of passage in both chambers.

Under current law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a minimum fine of $200, a maximum fine of $500, and up to a year in jail, although the Miller commission heard repeatedly that few people go to jail for marijuana possession alone.

While supporters of decriminalization say the change would save money and is part of a national trend, opponents have argued that such a change makes marijuana more legally and socially acceptable for young people.

Thirteen states, including Massachusetts, have decriminalized possession of “small amounts” of marijuana, according to the Senate press office.

– Article originally from The Providence Journal.