Legislation filed this week by Rhode Island Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton, to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana has already gotten quite a bit of attention. Edwards says that he filed the legislation, which would be similar to the marijuana decriminalization law approved by Massachusetts voters in 2008, in order to save the state money and to save lives from being destroyed as a result of a youthful — and relatively harmless — indiscretion.

Enactment of this legislation would bring Rhode Island’s laws into parity with those in neighboring Massachusetts. Currently, if someone were to be caught with an ounce or less of pot in Taunton, they would receive a $100 ticket. If they were caught over the state line in, say, East Providence, they would be charged with a misdemeanor, have to go to court, fined between $200 and $500 and could even be thrown in jail for up to a year. Those convicted may also be sentenced to drug education classes and up to 100 hours of community service for a first offense. Harsher penalties are imposed for subsequent offenses.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin opposes decriminalization, saying that it sends the wrong message to youth and is a hindrance to law enforcement. But marijuana use would still be illegal and penalized by a fine. It’s just not subject to criminal prosecution, freeing up Kilmartin’s prosecutors, freeing up mounting court backlogs, and allowing law enforcement resources to investigate and fight more significant crime, rather than enforcing and prosecuting draconian and ineffective marijuana prohibition laws.

Under Edwards’ legislation, those caught with an ounce or less of pot in Rhode Island — considered the threshold for personal use — would essentially get a civil citation — similar to a traffic ticket — and be fined $150. It would not become a part of a criminal record. In Massachusetts, the fine is $100.

“When Massachusetts decriminalized, the state did not implode,” Edwards correctly points out.

Read more: 

EDITORIAL: OUR VIEW: Rhode Island can learn from Mass. pot laws
Taunton Daily Gazette, Posted Jan 21, 2011 @ 08:49 PM

EDITORIAL: OUR VIEW: Decriminalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island
Herald News, Posted Jan 22, 2011 @ 07:28 PM
EDITORIAL: OUR VIEW: Decriminalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island
Wickedlocal.com/somerset, Posted Jan 22, 2011 @ 07:28 PM
EDITORIAL: OUR VIEW: Decriminalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island
Wickedlocal.com/fallriver, Posted Jan 22, 2011 @ 07:28 PM
EDITORIAL: OUR VIEW: Decriminalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island
Wickedlocal.com/swansea, Posted Jan 22, 2011 @ 07:28 PM
EDITORIAL: OUR VIEW: Decriminalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island
Wickedlocal.com/westport, Posted Jan 22, 2011 @ 07:28 PM

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