Saying it would save the state millions of dollars, Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) is trying again this year to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
The legislation (2011-H5031), which he first introduced last year, would call for civil fines of $150 per occurrence for those who possess small amounts of marijuana, according to a press release on the General Assembly Web site Tuesday.
Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana carries a criminal penalty of up to one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine.
“My intent with this legislation remains the same, to provide some relief to the taxpayers of our state,” Edwards said. “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.”
If his decriminalization bill becomes law, Edwards said, the state would save between $1 million and $4 million in court costs, law enforcement and Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) expenses.
The average cost to house a prisoner at the ACI is $44,000 per year, according to the release.
Rep. Edwards said that making the penalty a civil offense rather than a criminal offense will also spare people, especially young adults, from a having a criminal record that could potentially exclude them from certain types of employment in the future.
“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.
Edwards said he has received wide support this year, with 40 cosponsors – from both sides of the aisle – signing on to his legislation. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Edwards, a Tiverton resident, is the director of Caritas, a nonprofit organization that offers treatment for substance abusers and their families through residential and outpatient programs.