RI May Decriminalize Pot—Who's Next?
Rhode Island is the latest state to drastically reduce pot penalties—causing both supporters and critics to speak up.
Rhode Island could soon become the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana possession—and plenty more could follow. The state’s General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation last week (50-24 in the House and 28-6 in the state Senate) to punish adults caught with under an ounce of pot with a mere $150 fine, instead of much larger fines or possible jail. Minors caught with pot would have to complete a drug awareness program and community service. A recent survey by Rasmussen showed that most Americans favor such legislation. In fact 56% of respondents backed legalizing and regulating marijuana, up from 50% from the end of last year and 46% in 2010. “It’s now politically viable to talk about these things,” says Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project—a Washington, DC-based group that supports the reduction or elimination of penalties for medical and recreational pot use. “The public understands that there are substances that are far more harmful—alcohol, tobacco—that we regulate. People are realizing just how much money is being wasted on prohibition.” Not all is peaceful and green in Rhode Island though. Gov. Lincoln Chafee blocked three dispensaries from opening last year after the state’s top federal prosecutor warned they could be prosecuted, while others worry that legalizing pot could be a slippery slope. “People ask me what the most dangerous drug is, and I say marijuana," says Robert DuPont, who served as the US drug czar under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. "Other drugs have serious consequences that are easy to recognize. Marijuana saps people’s motivation, their direction. It’s a drug that makes people stupid and lazy. That’s in a way more dangerous.”