The Rhode Island General Assembly House and Senate judiciary committees both voted Tuesday afternoon to approve a marijuana decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2253 and its companion bill in the House, HB 7092. The bills now head for final floor votes in their respective chambers.
The bills have strong public support. A Public Policy Polling survey in January showed that 65% of likely voters supported decriminalization. Support came from across the political spectrum, with 73% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans, and 60% of independents in favor of the measure.
The bills are also supported by a number of social science and public health professionals.
"H 7092 and S 2253 represent the beginning of a new way forward for marijuana policy in the Ocean State -- an approach that moves away from punitive law enforcement tactics by placing a greater emphasis on public health," said Dr. Glenn Loury, professor of social science and economics at Brown University. "In addition to the issuance of a civil violation, the bills require minors who are caught in possession of a small amount of marijuana to attend a drug education course and perform community service. Community service, parental discipline, and honest education on the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use are more humane ways to deal with marijuana than incarcerating adolescent users."
"My forty years as a public health advocate have convinced me that decriminalizing marijuana possession is a sensible move for both public health and public safety," said Dr. David Lewis, professor of community health and medicine and founder of the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. "Contrary to common fears, the evidence from many states shows that decriminalizing possession does not result in a significant rise in marijuana use. I'm grateful that Rhode Island is moving toward a less punitive policy."
"Committee approval sets the stage for Rhode Island to join the ever growing number of states that have removed the threat of jail time for the nonviolent act of simply possessing a small amount of marijuana," said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut have done so as well, with no ill effects. In fact, most of the states that have decriminalized marijuana possession did so in the 1970s, and none of them have suffered in any way by doing so. Rhode Island lawmakers should be proud to sensibly reform state law."
The General Assembly has about two more weeks to act before the legislative session ends.