Rhode to Decriminalization
On June 13, 2012 Rhode Island (R.I.) joined fifteen other states when its Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the state’s new bill decriminalizing marijuana. The cool thing about Rhode Island, just like New York City, is that it’s taking the decrim seriously. Before the twin house bills (S2253/H7092) passed, R.I. imposed a $500 fine and a year in the hoosegow just for having a couple of doobs. After April 13, 2013, R.I. cops won’t even arrest you for an “o” or less. They will take your stash and give you $150 “civil” ticket. That’s it. The ticket doesn’t even leave a mark on your criminal record. If for some reason you are caught three times in a year and a half, you may have to pay a $500 fine or spend a month in the clink. Of course, if you are caught that many times in just over a year – you’re either into some other activities that are buzzin’ the fuzz, or you ride the short bus to school.
However, if you are under 18, the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal will probably crush your driving privileges, make you go to a Drug Awareness class, and have you picking up trash along the freeway for a couple of weeks. While this might seem mega-lame, it’s a lot better than our own teens get in Michigan. Many of our teens find themselves incarcerated, placed on probation, or marked in the system for just a roach or two.
A version of these bills had been introduced by sponsor Rep. John Edwards of Tiverton on numerous occasions with a slow persuasion of support over many years. Finally this year, with the help of his co-sponsor Senator Joshua Miller, Edwards managed to win the support of the House (50-24) and the Senate (28-6). Many believe these legislative results are reflective of the shifting attitudes among Americans about marijuana use. Ultimately it may come down to pragmatic legal sense. One of the first rules of making a new law is to never create a law you are unwilling or unable to enforce. In this case, so many Americans use marijuana as their drug of choice, it is truly impossible to stop them. So, having cops focus on their energy on an ocean of non-violent crime is a waste of tax-payer time and money. In fact according to Harvard economist Jeffery Myron, R.I. should save around $11 million a year when the bills go into effect.
“I’m very happy the governor has decided to support this legislation… I am hopeful that this will allow our law enforcement officials to do what they do best – solve real crimes.”- Representative and Sponsor John Edwards
Of course there are nay-sayers to controversial issues such as this, but their message doesn’t offer any new thoughts or solutions; just the same ol’ same ol’ about the “kind of message…we [are] sending to our youth.” However, this short-sighted opinion falls flat when pressed with the fact that this new law, for the first time ever, sets aside monies collected from these fines to fund the teen drug awareness programs – thus allowing the civil infraction to pay for itself- efficient and logically consequential. Indeed, these particular bills have been cited as possible models for designing a national marijuana decriminalization bill. .
“This legislation maintains the spirit of the policy with adjustments that factored in concerns from the judiciary, law enforcement officials and the community… 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.” – Senator and Co-Sponsor Joshua Miller