New Pot Policy in Effect

It was no April Fool’s joke. Starting last month, the penalties for marijuana possession in Rhode Island were dropped to a $150 dollar fine and an appearance in traffic court. The new statute means pot smokers will have to surrender their weed (unless they are a medical marijuana patient) and there won’t be a permanent criminal record either.

This puts our state only behind Washington and Colorado as one of the most permissive when it comes to pot. Currently, we are the only state that also allows medical marijuana patients from other states to buy weed legally here – as long as their medical condition matches one we have in our statute.

Does this mean full legalization is on the way? Advocates hope so, but others doubt it. By lowering penalties, non-medical marijuana remains illegal, but the pressures to legalize are reduced. One of the main objections from pro-pot advocates was the unfairness of locking someone up for what they termed a “victimless” crime. With just a civil fine to pay, this objection is largely met.

What’s more troubling is how the move will be perceived by those not currently in the cannabis community. Some say it sends the wrong message to kids. An Associated Press story on the new law had this:
"Decriminalization says to some people that it's now legal," said Kristen Westmoreland, a physician who works for a substance abuse prevention program in Barrington. "None of us think that people should go to prison for a single marijuana offense. But we need to be careful when we change laws, because it gives the impression that marijuana is OK."

The new law doesn’t drop other restrictions. Minors nabbed for marijuana possession will have to take a drug awareness program coupled with community service. Driving under the influence of weed will still be illegal and adults who get tagged three times within 18 months for possession will get upgraded to a misdemeanor charge instead of the civil fine.

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