Rhode Island changes penalty for marijuana possession

Right now, in the state of Rhode Island, if you're caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, and are convicted of marijuana possession, you'll end up with a criminal record that follows you for the rest of your life.

But starting on Monday that will no longer be the case.

The Ocean State will join 15 other states across the nation in decriminalizing less than an ounce of weed.

Instead of being a crime, it will be a civil offense that will earn you a ticket, much like a traffic infraction.

State Rep. John Edwards was one of two bill sponsors.

What this bill will do, is it takes away the entire criminal penalty, and makes it a civil penalty, unless of course you get caught three times in eighteen months and then you probably really deserve to be put in prison, possibly," Edwards said.

Beginning Monday, if you're caught and convicted for possession of less than an ounce of pot, you will no longer end up with a criminal record, instead you'll pay a 150 dollar fine, for the first and second offense.

The fine for a third offense jumps to $500, and the third offense is considered a criminal offense under the new law.

Edwards says pot is still illegal here in Rhode Island.

"It is still illegal, and it's still illegal to possess more than an ounce of pot, and it's still illegal to drive under the influence of pot, that hasn't changed," he said.

Edwards says the passage of the bill will soon provide more "regional equity" where pot is concerned. That's because Rhode island is the last New England state to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

What they find is that when people have a state that's decriminalize they don't have an increase in usage, it doesn't go up," Edwards said.

"I think that's OK. I don't really see the big deal of it. I know weed smokers, I know it will make them happy. And I think the police department should be focused on more serious matters rather than someone having weed with them," said 19-year-old Kenneth Fordham, of Providence.

Martha Cooper of Providence agreed.

"I think it's pretty fair. I mean, people do it anyway, regardless of whether or not it's legal or not legal. So to just get a ticket, that's fair, and hopefully they learned their lesson the first time around, because police should be more focused on the street, instead of petty stuff like pot," she said.

Edwards said he hears mostly positive feedback on the bill a measure he's been pushing along with a colleague for four years.

"It wasn't something I did alone, there were a lot of other people involved with it. We had student groups that helped us, groups out of Washington, I also worked hand in hand with Senator Josh Miller from Cranston," he said.

Minors who are caught with less than an ounce of weed will experience slightly different repercussions than adults facing the same civil charge.

Police will be required to notify the juvenile's parents, and the child will then mandated to complete a licensed drug program, and community service.