STATE HOUSE – Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence)
has introduced legislation (2019-H 5760)
that would reclassify simple drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor,
bringing Rhode Island's statute in line with at least 20 other states.
“Too many lives have been ruined due to treating people
dealing with addiction issues as violent criminals and locking them away at
great cost to taxpayers. If we truly want to address drug problems in our
state, we should not be incarcerating people suffering from addiction due to
personal use drug possession,” said Representative Slater.
Currently, simple possession for personal use—of 1 ounce or
less of a controlled substance other than marijuana—is a felony under Rhode
Island law, punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Marijuana possession of similar amounts is a civil violation.
This drug reclassification reform is expected to reduce
Rhode Island's prison population and generate related savings for the state.
Reclassification also promises a reduction in felony convictions, which carry
significant collateral consequences and costs (both monetary and non-monetary)
to Rhode Island communities.
The proposed amendments would:
• Change simple possession for personal use of a non-marijuana
controlled substance in amounts 1 ounce or less from a felony to a misdemeanor.
• Adjust the maximum fines and prison terms for violations
to correspond with a misdemeanor offense.
• Bring Rhode Island's law in line with simple possession
laws in many states. More than 20 states, including Massachusetts, New York,
Maine, and Vermont provide misdemeanor penalties for simple possession of drugs
other than marijuana. Since 2014, California, Utah, Connecticut, Alaska, and
Oklahoma have similarly reclassified drug possession offenses.
“This bill is about having compassion for those living with
drug problems. This bill is also about saving the taxpayers money by
eliminating unnecessary jailing. And most importantly, by reclassifying
our drug possession laws, it will allow people suffering from addiction to
receive the proper medical help they need rather than locking them up in
cages,” concluded Representative Slater.
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.