marijuanaMarijuana laws are constantly changing on both the State and Federal level, making it difficult for individuals to keep up. In today’s blog, the Rhode Island criminal defense attorneys at Abilheira Law explain the status of Rhode Island’s marijuana laws.

What is the Difference between Marijuana Decriminalization and Marijuana Legalization?

Decriminalization relaxes criminal penalties now imposed for marijuana use (even though the manufacturing and sale for recreational purposes remain illegal) whereas legalization gets rid of all pre-existing laws that ban possession and recreational use of marijuana.

Is Marijuana Decriminalized in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island has decriminalized less than one ounce (oz.) of marijuana, making it a civil violation, similar to a traffic ticket.  The penalty for possession of marijuana less than one ounce will include a fine of $150.00 to $600.00. However, a third offense for possession of marijuana less than one ounce within eighteen (18) months will become a criminal misdemeanor charge, with penalties including potential jail time (up to thirty (30) days) and fines of up to $500.

Additionally, possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is not decriminalized in Rhode Island.  Therefore, possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is prosecuted as a criminal misdemeanor charge.  A first offense for possession of marijuana of more than one ounce will include potential jail time, a possible criminal record/conviction, and fines of $200-$500.

Furthermore, possession of marijuana in large quantities (more than one kilogram (kg)) is a felony in Rhode Island.  Penalties may include incarceration for up to fifty (50) years and fines of up to $500,000.

Where Does Rhode Island Stand Regarding Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana has been legal in Rhode Island since 2006. In fact, there are five medical dispensaries across the State. Rhode Island is also one of the few states that accepts medical cards from out-of-state patients.

What does “Medical Marijuana” include?

In Rhode Island, patients with certain medical conditions may be granted a medical marijuana card by a licensed doctor.  Patients are then legally permitted to possess or carry two and a half ounces of marijuana. They are also permitted to cultivate up to 12 plants and 12 seedlings, as long as the plants are indoors.

Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law all specifies what “caregivers” may legally do, such as grow a number of plants for a specified number of patients.

Has Marijuana Been Legalized in Rhode Island, as in Massachusetts?

No, aside from medical use and possession of small amounts of marijuana, marijuana remains illegal in Rhode Island.

Will Rhode Island Legalize Marijuana?

For several years, Rhode Island legislators have expressed their desire to legalize marijuana and adopt a similar framework to Massachusetts, where individuals that are at least 21 years old can use marijuana for recreational purposes. For more on the Massachusetts law, read our previous blog.

If Successful, What Would Legalization in Rhode Island Allow?

Recent bills proposed at the State House evidence the legislature’s intent to allow legalization of certain quantities of marijuana, under restrictive conditions and regulations:

  • Adults 21 years old or older will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residence (and up to ten ounces inside their residence) and grow up to two marijuana plants (only one may be mature) in an enclosed, locked space.
  • A highly regulated marijuana market to include licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities (in accordance with the Department of Business Regulation’s rules regulating security, labeling, health and safety requirements).
  • Barriers to teen access like ID checks and serious penalties for selling marijuana to individuals under 21.

Why Does Rhode Island Intend to Legalize Marijuana?

Taxing marijuana sales could generate tens of millions of dollars in much-needed tax revenue for the state of Rhode Island (and a portion will get reserved for programs that treat and prevent alcohol and other substance abuse).

Further, Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) explains, “[l]egal marijuana sales will be available to Rhode Islanders as soon as Massachusetts retailers start offering it in July [2018]. But Massachusetts will keep the revenue from their purchases when Rhode Islanders cross the border to get it. At that point, we will have just as many people using it, plus an unregulated, untaxed market in Rhode Island, with none of the money we would get for drug prevention and education programs, for law enforcement or for our general fund. We need this bill to give our state the resources to handle marijuana, rather than letting those resources stay in Massachusetts when our residents buy legal marijuana there and then use it here.”

What If I Am Currently Facing a Marijuana-Related Charge in Rhode Island? What Now?

For more information, contact the skilled Rhode Island criminal defense attorneys at Abilheira Law today. Call us now at 401-245-5100, or fill out our online form!