Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jun 2012
Source: Taunton Daily Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2012 Taunton Daily Gazette


Presuming both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly
cross-approve their matching bills and Gov. Lincoln Chafee signs the
bill or takes no action, Rhode Island will become the latest state to
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Like Rhode
Island's neighbors - Massachusetts and Connecticut - adults caught
with less than an ounce of pot would receive a civil citation, similar
to a traffic ticket.

Under the Rhode Island bill, introduced by Rep. John Edwards,
D-Tiverton, the drug would be subject to confiscation and violators
would face a $150 fine. Currently, those caught with any amount of
marijuana in Rhode Island face arrest, up to a year in jail and a fine
of up to $500. Under a state law approved by Massachusetts voters in
2008, violators are subject to confiscation and a $100 ticket.

While the Rhode Island bill lessens the penalties for personal use of
marijuana, it also includes some good provisions to deter repeat
offenses, impaired driving and use by minors. Under Edwards' bill,
someone caught with marijuana three times in 18 months would face
arrest and up to 30 days in prison. Those driving under the influence
remain subject to arrest. In addition, minors caught with marijuana
would be forced to attend a drug awareness program and perform
community service. Those possessing more than an ounce of pot would
still be subject to criminal charges and arrest.

While some are concerned that marijuana decriminalization leads to
increased use, studies have shown that is simply not the case in
states that have decriminalized pot. A January substance use survey of
Tiverton High School students found that 44 percent - 25 percent
higher than the national average - admitting smoking marijuana in the
past 30 days.

While this is a problem that Tiverton needs to address as a community,
Rhode Island's antiquated marijuana prohibition laws are clearly not
serving as an effective deterrent. Furthermore, saddling young pot
smokers with a criminal record that prevents them from obtaining
student loans or the ability to get a job in certain fields serves no
one's interests. The penalties for youthful offenders included in the
law actually help to educate youth about the dangers of drug use.

Edwards' legislation, which received strong support from both the
House and Senate, is intended to prevent "youthful indiscretions" from
leading to a drug conviction that can come back to haunt people
throughout life. As State Rep. Daniel Gordon, R-Portsmouth, Tiverton,
Little Compton, pointed out, it also helps to reduce overcrowding at
the state prison, and reins in government overreach into citizen's

Particularly in border communities such as Tiverton, Rhode Island's
decriminalization will bring greater parity between the neighboring
state's laws, and will prevent the detriment that overly harsh
marijuana prohibition laws can have on individuals and families. "Our
citizens are being penalized, when you can go across the border and
won't face those same charges," Edwards said.

The Rhode Island marijuana decriminalization legislation is a
balanced, effective and thoughtful approach to marijuana policy. The
final bill deserves Gov. Chafee's signature.
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