Rhode Island has decriminalized marijuana with a measure passed at the beginning of April, so anyone caught with up to an ounce of pot will now face a $150 ticket instead of a misdemeanor criminal charge.
The marijuana decriminalization measure was passed at midnight on April 1, making Rhode Island the latest state to either legalize marijuana or decrease the penalties associated with possession.
Governor Lincoln Chafee had signed the marijuana decriminalization legislation into law in June, though it did not take effect until Monday as officials worked out the enforcement procedures.
For Rhode Island, the marijuana decriminalization measure even longer in the making. In 2006, the state’s General Assembly passed a law establishing a state medical-marijuana program that allowed patients to grow their own cannabis or get it from caregivers or growers certified by the state.
The commonwealth has 5,048 patients today and 3,525 caregivers. Two dispensaries in Rhode Island are expected to begin growing and selling marijuana since the April 1 marijuana decriminalization measure.
Rhode Island is now the 15th state in the nation to enact legislation decriminalizing marijuana. Rhode Island’s neighbors of Massachusetts and Connecticut have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Some states have gone further, including Colorado and Washington, which in November voted to legalize marijuana.
Marijuana users are not completely in the clear. While possession of up to one ounce (28 grams) is now a civil offense, three offenses in an 18-month period still amounts to a misdemeanor.
Still, it is a drastic change from times when possessing even a small amount of marijuana was carried a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
“I think it’s going to save our police a lot of problems,” said state Representative John Edwards, a co-sponsor of the measure. Edwards added that that what might be a “youthful indiscretion” will no longer bring the long-term consequences of a criminal record.
Minors now caught with marijuana in Rhode Island will have to complete a drug awareness program and perform community services. Half of the money collected from fines will be used for youth education and treatment programs.