Landmark legislation came after years of collaborative work
Gov. Dan McKee, Attorney General Peter Neronha, and several state and local leaders gathered at PWR's 640 Broad Street location in South Providence in September 2021 to sign legislation that reclassifies simple possession of 10 grams or less of certain controlled substances a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The Drug Reclassification bill was co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey and state Rep. Scott Slater. PWR's Overdose Prevention Program Director Dennis Bailer spoke about the importance of this bill for our clients and staff and shared his own personal experiences in a speech before the signing of the bill.
"This law … hits home for me personally because I’ve been deemed a felon," Dennis said. "A felon as a result of a bad traffic stop where the officers found no more than $40 dollars of a controlled substance in my car. As a direct result of this felony classification, I have been denied housing, and I have been denied employment. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to overcome those road-blocking denials, but make no mistake about it, not everyone does."
PWR staff worked behind the scenes with community and legislative partners for years to advance this legislation. The revised law will help keep people who use drugs out of prison, remove the burden of a felony from their record, and reduces the fees and fines that accompany charges of drug possession. Those costs often are a burden for individuals and can contribute to financial insecurity, homelessness, and other problems.
"People suffering from addiction need treatment, not prison," Neronha noted. "Branding individuals as felons because of an addiction only creates additional barriers to their successful recovery."