Decriminalizing drugs in Rhode Island: Proposed bill would make simple possession a civil violation
“Our justice system must catch up to what our medical community has long recognized: addiction is a disease," says Rep. José Batista.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — A new bill referred to the House Judiciary Committee in Rhode Island would make simple possession of less than an ounce of any drug, except fentanyl, illegal.
The bill, 2022-H 7896, was introduced this week by Rep. José Batista.
Under the proposed legislation, an individual carrying less than an ounce would be given a $100 civil violation for their first offense, and up to $300 anytime thereafter. Offenders would also be required to complete community service time and attend drug counseling.
“Our justice system must catch up to what our medical community has long recognized: addiction is a disease. People who are addicted need treatment, not jail,” said Batista. “It harms individuals and it adds up to enormous burdens on poor neighborhoods.”
The bill would also prohibit police from having probable cause or reasonable suspicion to search the cars or homes of those with simple drug possession.
The sale of drugs would still be considered a criminal act, with maximum sentences ranging from one year and $10,000 fines for class 5 drugs to 30 years and $100,000 fines for class 1 or 2 substances.
Addiction researcher and advocate Sam Tarplin siad while having the exception for fentanyl “doesn’t make sense” to him since most users do not know if their drug could be laced with the substance, he agrees with the legislation to decriminalize minor possession charges.
“For whatever reason, we put it on the police to address mental health issues and substance abuse issues,” said Tarplin. “Addiction is based largely on trauma and other mental health issues, and serving a term in jail or prison can make those issues worse.”
Batista echoed a similar statement in a press release sent out on Friday morning.
“People addicted to drugs can rack up convictions, parole, violations, and criminal records that prevent them from finding jobs and homes, fueling hopelessness and further addiction. It harms individuals and it adds up to enormous burdens on poor neighborhoods,” said Batista. “The war on drugs has not helped stop drug use; it has only filled our prisons and added to the destruction that drugs cause to our communities. To reduce drug use, we need treatment, not incarceration.”