You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Marijuana penalties ease in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE — Rhode ­Island became the latest state Monday to roll back criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession, replacing the threat of jail time with something more like a traffic citation.

While it is still a criminal ­offense to drive while under the influence of marijuana, adults caught with an ounce or less of marijuana now face a $150 civil fine and a hearing at the state’s traffic court.

Continue reading below

Minors will also be required to complete community service and a drug-awareness class. The incident will not appear on an individual’s criminal record, though anyone cited three times within 18 months will face misdemeanor charges.

Fourteen states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Last year, Colorado and Washington went further, becoming the first American states to ­legalize the drug.

Advocates for changing marijuana policies applauded Rhode Island’s new law at a State House event Monday.

Dr. David Lewis, a physician and Brown University professor who studies drug addiction, said criminal penalties for ­minor marijuana offenses are expensive, unnecessary, and ­ineffective. He would like to see the state go further in regulating marijuana.

‘‘Rhode Island has taken a significant step in correcting what I think . . . is an error in the law,’’ he said. ‘‘I think we have a conversation going on right now in Rhode Island.’’

The law was passed last year, but its enactment was ­delayed until April 1 to give ­police time to prepare. State ­Police Captain John Lemont said officers in many departments have been trained on the new procedures for handling marijuana cases.

‘‘It’s not legalization; it’s ­decriminalization,’’ Lemont said. ‘‘It’s still a civil offense. ­Essentially, it’s going to be a traffic ticket.’’

But state Representative Jim McLaughlin, a Cumberland Democrat, said decriminalization sends the wrong message to teenagers and could ease the way for legalization.

A bill to subject marijuana to alcohol-style regulations and taxes is pending in the General Assembly, but is unlikely to pass this year.

‘‘It’s a mind-altering drug,’’ he said. ‘‘We can’t even handle our alcohol.’’

Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.