New Study by OpenDoors Finds That RI Could Save Almost $12.7 Million by Decriminalizing Less Than One Ounce of Marijuana

March 10, 2010 - 5:48pm

by Nick Horton

Providence, RI--According to the new report by OpenDoors, “The Criminal Justice Costs of Marijuana Prohibition in Rhode Island,” marijuana prohibition has widespread and significant fiscal and human costs, results in unfair and racially disproportionate punishment, and has no demonstrated public safety benefits.  There were 1,771 arrests for marijuana possession in 2009, and in 2008 there were 584 incidents of incarceration for marijuana possession.  The report recommends decriminalization of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and estimates that this would save $12.7 million in criminal justice costs per year. 

 Additionally, the report concludes that there is no proof of any crime control benefits of these incarcerations, finding that, “in the year after release from a prison sentence for marijuana, only 7% of individuals were reconvicted for a violent offense, only 2.5% for a violent felony.”  Despite the fact that white people smoke marijuana at higher rates, black people are punished disproportionately: black people are arrested 1.6 times more frequently for marijuana and those arrested are incarcerated eight times more frequently than whites.  The analysis in the report is based on arrest, court, and Department of Corrections data and the methodology was reviewed by the Department of Corrections.  The report also summarizes medical research that demonstrates that marijuana is significantly less of a public health risk than alcohol.

The results have been distributed to the Rhode Island Senate Special Commission to Study the Prohibition of Marijuana, which is meeting for the final time Tuesday, March 15 to study Rhode Island’s current marijuana laws.  Legislation has also been submitted in both the Senate and the House to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.  The report concludes that this legislation would result in significant fiscal savings.  Currently, thirteen other states partially decriminalize marijuana possession, including Massachusetts, which made possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense in a 2008 ballot referendum by a vote of 65% to 35%.    

 This report is also available at www.opendoorsri.org/marijuanapolicy.

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