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6/14/2012 Governor signs marijuana decriminalization bills
STATE HOUSE – Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has signed legislation to decriminalize marijuana, making Rhode Island the 15th state in the nation to sign similar legislation.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Warwick) and Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), eliminates the criminal charge for carrying 1 ounce or less of marijuana and instead impose a civil penalty of a $150 fine, plus forfeiture of the drug. A third offense within 18 months of the previous offense would be treated as a misdemeanor.

“I’m very happy the governor has decided to support this legislation,” said Representative Edwards. “I am hopeful that this will allow our law enforcement officials to do what they do best – solve real crimes. I’d also like to thank Senator Miller, who worked with me on this legislation and on the Senate study commission, and all the groups that helped us bring about this change.”

Senator Miller said there are some unique components to the new Rhode Island law (2012-S 2253Aaa, 2012-H7 092Aaa) that could eventually serve as a national model for decriminalization of marijuana.

“This legislation maintains the spirit of the policy with adjustments that factored in concerns from the judiciary, law enforcement officials and the community,” Senator Miller said. “That’s why we have the third strike turnover. If you possess an ounce or less within 18 months of a prior offense, it gets treated as a misdemeanor. Additionally, half of the revenue we make with these fines goes toward education and treatment programs for youth. The community much prefers to have our young people in those types of programs as opposed to incarceration, and it’s important that we preserve their access to education and employment. I’d also like to thank Representative Edwards. We couldn’t have done this without strong efforts from both sides of the rotunda.”

Under the provisions of the new law, offenders who are minors would also have to complete an approved drug awareness program and community service. The Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal would have jurisdiction over these cases. The law will go into effect on April 1, 2013.

Previously, possession of even very small amounts of marijuana would be considered a misdemeanor under state law and was punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $500.

For more information, contact:
Brenna McCabe, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457