John Edwards Fighting to Decriminalize Marijuana

John Edwards

In his efforts to legalize marijuana, Rep. John Edwards of Rhode Island said it would save the state millions of dollars.  Edwards is anticipated to continue his effort to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana in Rhode Island for 20102.

WPRI reported that Edwards and fellow Rhode Island Libertarian, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) plan to push for the reform in 2012. Edwards first introduced legislation (2011-H5031) in 2010, calling for civil fines of $150 per occurrence for those who possess small amounts of marijuana.  Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana carries a criminal penalty of up to one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine.

Edwards said such reform “would take a modest step to make the penalties for marijuana possession more proportional to the offense and to allow police to focus their time on more serious matters.”  Per a letter published on Patch last June.

“My intent with this legislation remains the same, to provide some relief to the taxpayers of our state,” Edwards said. “In these difficult times, we must look for ways to cut costs wherever we can. Rhode Islanders should not be footing the bill to keep people in jail due to simple possession charges. It’s a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.”

If his decriminalization bill becomes law, Edwards said, the state would save between $1 million and $4 million in court costs, law enforcement and Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) expenses.

The average cost to house a prisoner at the ACI is $44,000 per year, according to the release.

Rep. Edwards said that making the penalty a civil offense rather than a criminal offense will also spare people, especially young adults, from a having a criminal record that could potentially exclude them from certain types of employment in the future.

“A youthful indiscretion should not be something that ruins a person’s chance to become a teacher, fireman or even volunteer in a child’s classroom,” he said.

Edwards said he has received wide support this year, with 40 cosponsors – from both sides of the aisle – signing on to his legislation. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

“In addition to budgetary savings, decriminalizing small possession of marijuana allows our limited law enforcement to focus on crimes of violence and against property,” Edwards wrote. “With Providence and other communities set to potentially lay off police officers, it is vital that we give our brave men and women of the shield all the tools they need to focus their efforts on serious crimes. By reforming the punishment for simple possession of marijuana, a non-violent crime, our law enforcement can focus on the criminals who truly damage our communities through acts of violence and destruction.”

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