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9/28/2021 Legislation to reclassify certain drug possession charges signed into law
PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee, joined by Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, Rep. Scott A. Slater and community advocates ceremonially signed legislation today that amends the Uniform Controlled Substances Act to reclassify simple possession of 10 grams or less of certain controlled substances as a misdemeanor charge, punishable up to two years, rather than a felony.

The legislation (2021-S 0188A2021-H 6083A), supported by Attorney General Neronha, changes simple possession of a controlled substance for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor, allowing individuals suffering from addiction to get treatment rather than end up in prison and continue a cycle of drug use and arrests.
“I believe that possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use is much more of a public health issue than a law enforcement one,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Over-criminalizing such conduct diverted our law enforcement focus away from where it plainly belongs: on the drug traffickers who profit in dealing misery to others and who often engage in the violence that regularly comes with drug dealing. Make no mistake, we are as committed as we have ever been to prosecuting drug dealers as felons – and this new law does nothing to protect them. But those who simply possess drugs – who are addicted and cannot escape the cycle of addiction – faced barriers to employment, housing, and other opportunities to turn their lives around because they had a felony hanging around their neck. To me, that does more harm than good. We’ve already charged the new law in over 80 cases and, over time, we will see a real impact on Rhode Islanders.”
“People suffering from addiction need treatment, not prison,” said Senator McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick). “As we better understand addiction and rehabilitation, we must modernize draconian sentencing laws to more effectively address substance use disorders. This legislation shifts the paradigm for combating addiction away from crime and punishment and towards treatment. Branding individuals as felons because of an addition only creates additional barriers to their successful recovery.”
“Individuals with substance abuse disorders are not hardened criminals or felons who should be locked away due to their disease. This bill will help those with personal drug problems get the treatment they need in order to overcome their addictions and once again become productive members of society. Compassion, care and understanding are what these people need, not penal confinement or the lifelong stigma of being a felon,” said Representative Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence).
The ceremonial bill signing ceremony took place at Project Weber/RENEW, a local non-profit that provides recovery support as well as harm reduction and other services to at-risk members of the community.

“This legislation is about breaking the cycle and getting help for those suffering from addiction,” said Governor McKee. “It’s a matter of public health to allow individuals to get treatment, not prison time. We are giving Rhode Islanders the opportunity to lead meaningful lives, and that is something we can all support. I thank Attorney General Neronha and the bill sponsors for bringing this life-changing legislation to the table.”
"Increasingly we understand substance use to be a health condition that requires support, and that criminalizing people for their medical condition is counterproductive,” said Annajane Yolken, Director of Programs at Project Weber/RENEW. “This law takes a bold step towards that paradigm shift. By providing people with the opportunity to better access employment, education, and housing, we will better support Rhode Islanders' recovery and well-being.”

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903