Hoping the second time is the charm, Rhode Island state Rep. John Edwards (D-Portsmouth) has reintroduced a bill that would decriminalize pot possession there. He sponsored the same bill last year, but it failed to make it through the legislative process.
"My intent with this legislation remains the same, to provide some relief to the taxpayers of our state," Edwards said in a Tuesday press release. "In these difficult times, we must look for ways to cut costs wherever we can. Rhode Islanders should not be footing the bill to keep people in jail due to simple possession charges. It’s a huge waste of taxpayer dollars."
Rhode Island would save between $1 million and $4 million a year in law enforcement, court, and corrections costs if the bill passed, Edwards said. The state spends an average of $44,000 to house one prisoner for one year, the press release noted.
Making the penalty a civil rather than a criminal offense will also spare people, especially young people, from having a criminal record that could limit their job opportunities, Edwards said. "A youthful indiscretion should not be something that ruins a person’s chance to become a teacher, fireman or even volunteer in a child’s classroom," he said.
The bill already has 40 cosponsors, including some Republicans. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
More than a dozen states have decriminalized pot possession. The most recent were Massachusetts in 2008 and California last year.