On Friday, April 22, police at a checkpoint in Connecticut stopped Rhode Island House Minority Leader Robert Watson. Representative Watson cooperated with the police, agreeing to a Breathalyzer that resulted in a 0.05 reading (0.08 is legally impaired). During the stop, police also uncovered a small amount of marijuana and a pipe. Rep. Watson has since stated that he uses marijuana for medical purposes, but that he decided not to become a registered medical marijuana patient in Rhode Island out of confidentiality fears.
This unfortunate situation lends itself to serious contemplation of our current draconian marijuana laws. In Connecticut, as well as in Rhode Island, the possession of even a small amount of marijuana is considered a crime. Criminal convictions haunt individuals as a mark on their records, even if jail time is avoided. Many people will have a difficult time obtaining gainful employment, college admission or loans, and housing because of their record. Are these drastic results really justified for something as simple as possessing a small amount of a substance proven safer than alcohol?
Legislators in both Rhode Island and Connecticut have the opportunity this year to end the heavy-handed practice of labeling anyone a criminal for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Both states have bills pending that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, replacing the current criminal penalties with a more rational civil fine.
Finally, I would like to commend the minority leader for his subsequent bravery and honesty in addressing his entire chamber about this issue. He explained that prescription medications have caused severe side effects, and that marijuana alleviated bouts of pancreatitis, which put him into a coma for five days last November. I am glad he has found a medicine that helps alleviate his pain. Protecting patients, such as Rep. Watson, is why we worked so hard to pass Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law. Rhode Island’s law, for which Rep. Watson voted, includes protection from conviction for unregistered patients who have doctors’ recommendations, as well as protection from arrest for those who register.