A Rhode Island Senate panel last week heard initial testimony on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine. The bill is one of a handful of drug reform measures now working their way through the state legislature alongside separate proposals to legalize marijuana that have been filed by the governor and top lawmakers.
“The goal of this bill is to remove criminal charges from narcotic and opioid possession and in place have civil violations, drug counseling programs and community service,” sponsor Sen. Tiara Mack (D), told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony but took no action on the bill. “When we decriminalize, we find that people are more likely to come out of the shadows and seek help.”
Mack’s bill, S. 604, was one of two measures the panel heard Thursday that would reduce the state’s current felony charge for simple drug possession. A competing measure, S. 188, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) and backed by state Attorney General Peter Neronha (D), would make possession of small amounts of controlled substances a misdemeanor.
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