Rhode Island lawmakers are scrutinizing legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees just voted in favor of two bills that would reduce the penalty for possession of marijuana to a $150 civil fine for most offenses. H 7092 and its companion bill, S 2253, would make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction, similar to a parking ticket, and would remove the criminal penalties that currently exist.
The proposal would replace criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a $150 civil fine. Minors caught with pot would also have to complete a substance abuse program and community service.
Marijuana possession is now punishable in Rhode Island by up to a $500 fine and up to a year in jail. The bills will now go to their respective floors for a full vote.
A Poll in January from Public Policy Polling showed an overwhelming 65% of likely voters supported decreasing the penalties for simple possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by removing the possibility of jail time and making the offense a civil citation. Such a change received support from across the political spectrum, with 73% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 60% of independents in favor of the measure. The bills are also supported by a number of social science and public health professionals.