Rhode Island State Attorney General Peter Neronha recently announced new legislation that, if passed, will reclassify simple drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor. The bill is being introduced in the State Senate by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick).

If Passed, What Changes Will This Bill Bring to Rhode Island?

Currently, under Rhode Island General Laws § 21-28-4, simple possession of under an ounce of a controlled substance, other than marijuana, is a felony and punishable by up to three (3) years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

However, if Rhode Island passes this new bill, simple possession of a controlled substance would be reduced to a misdemeanor and would then be punishable by up to one (1) year in prison and a maximum $500 fine.

Why Do Government Officials Seek to Pass This Bill?

“Many times, simple possession charges are the result of another underlying issues, such as substance abuse or mental health,” stated Mr. McCaffrey. “Felony charges—let alone convictions—can send an individual’s life into a tailspin from which it is very difficult to recover,” he continued.

What Facts Support The Bill?

According to Rhode Island Hospital epidemiologist, Dr. Traci Green, while 324 Rhode Islanders died in 2017 from overdoses, more than 20,000 in Rhode Island are using drugs daily. “We have to look to the drivers of the epidemic and work to undermine its weakest points,” said Dr. Green of drug dealers and traffickers.

What Is the Solution?

Supporters of this bill believe law enforcement should concentrate its efforts to correct what Mr. Neronha refers to as the “genesis” of this problem: the drug dealers.

By focusing on the source of this problem rather than its effects, Rhode Island can focus on its rehabilitative efforts for drug-users and stimulate its economy. Mr. Neronha draws on his experience with the United States Attorney’s office and states:

It is time we [Rhode Island] recognize—like many other states have—that simple drug possession is not felony conduct . . . [t]his common-sense reform will reduce the impact that drug addiction or a conviction can have on a Rhode Islander’s ability to get a job, find housing, and turn his or her life around. And, importantly, we need to re-focus our law enforcement resources on stopping violent crime and drug dealers, instead of over-criminalizing users and those suffering from addiction.

In sum, supporters of the bill believe the solution lay in Rhode Island taking advantage of the many resources at its disposal rather than sentencing people to jail.

What If I Am Currently Facing a Simple Drug Possession Charge in Rhode Island?

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