The legislatures of several states are weighing whether they should legalize marijuana possession, or at least the possession of very small amounts of pot, according to a recent report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
This week, Rhode Island is expected to become the 15th state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, following a trend established by other states like Connecticut and Massachusetts in recent years.
Under the terms of the proposed bill, adults caught with marijuana would still face a $150 civil fine, but they would not have to pay court costs, face a trial, or even serve any jail time, provided that they had less than an ounce of pot when they were caught.
Sources say police officers would still be expected to confiscate the marijuana, but the person who was caught would not have the incident appear on their criminal history, nor would he or she face criminal charges.
Under the law, minors would be treated a bit differently. If a minor is caught with marijuana, he or she would have to take a drug awareness class and also perform community service, but again, the incident would not count as a criminal arrest.
The Rhode Island bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 28-6, and it also sped through the state House by a vote of 50-24. The final obstacle is obtaining the signature of Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent who has hinted that he supports the bill.
The bill’s strong support from all corners of the state’s political spectrum is evidence that states have grown tired of the high costs associated with the arrest and incarceration of petty drug offenders.
According to Rep. John Savage, a Republic from East Providence, “America’s 50-year war on drugs has been an abysmal failure” and other states should join Rhode Island in supporting the controlled sale and taxation of marijuana.
Of course, not everyone is happy about the bill. Rep. John Carnevale, a Democrat from Providence, worries about the message the state is “sending to our youth” and claims that the government should not tacitly support recreational drug use.
But shifting political tides could soon leave Rep. Carnevale in the minority. Sources say that a recent Gallup poll revealed that 50 percent of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana possession, which is significantly up from the previous figure of 25 percent in 1995.
And as more states legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, widespread legalization of pot possession could soon become a national reality.