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NEW: Bill Would Legalize Marijuana in Rhode Island

Wednesday, February 06, 2013


Five State Reps have introduced legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana in Rhode Island.

Citing a report published in the American Journal of Public Health that said seven decades of arresting marijuana users has “failed to prevent marijuana use”, a group of Rhode Island State Representatives has introduced a bill today that would decriminalize possession of “a small amount of” marijuana in Rhode Island for adults over 21 years of age.

Creating a chapter under the state’s "Food and Drugs” laws called the "Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act”, the legislation sponsored by Representatives Edith Ajello, Brian Newberry, David Bennett, Peter Martin and Larry Valencia would remove state criminal penalties for adults who use, obtain, purchase, transport or possess up to one ounce or less of marijuana and allow for the home-growing of up to three mature marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space

“It is time for Rhode Island to put the failed policy of marijuana prohibition behind us and adopt a more sensible approach just as our nation did with alcohol 80 years ago,” said Ajello. “By keeping marijuana sales in the underground market, we are ensuring they will be uncontrolled and that those selling it are not asking for proof of age. Regulating marijuana like alcohol will take marijuana sales off the street and put them in the hands of legitimate businesses that would face real disincentives for selling to minors. These new businesses will also create jobs and generate much-needed new tax revenue.”

The bill says that marijuana use is wide-spread and laws that have attempted to curb the drug’s availability have not worked.

 “More than one hundred million adults in the United States, including the last three presidents, have used marijuana,” the bill reads. “And data from the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey show that despite prohibition, more than eighty percent of twelfth graders find marijuana "fairly easy" or "easy" to obtain.”

The legislation says laws against marijuana have had a direct effect on drug cartel violence in Mexico and that, because there is a lack of “marijuana market regulation”, the drug can be produced and distributed by unlicensed growers who are “untaxed and unmonitored”, leaving the product uncontrolled and unregulated.

The legislation would create a regulated system of “licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities” to ensure that the drug is free of contaminants or other drugs when sold in Rhode Island.

Under the bill, the Department of Business Regulation would regulate the drug’s security, labeling, health and safety requirements, and rules requiring advertising of marijuana,” which, would be designed similarly to those for tobacco advertising.

The legislation enacts an excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of the drug and, as with tobacco, retailers would be required to collect the state’s seven-percent sales tax on marijuana.

Legalized marijuana, the bill says, would lead to a large increase in tax revenues and lower arrests for Rhode Islanders, leaving more time for police to deal with more serious cases.

“While there were more than two thousand seven hundred and two arrests for marijuana offenses in Rhode Island in 2009, thousands of serious crimes went unsolved,” the bill reads. “The clearance rates for homicide, rape, and robbery were only forty-three and eight tenths percent, twenty-seven percent and twenty-nine and three tenths percent in Rhode Island in 2009.”

The bill also cites an “alarming racial disparity in marijuana arrests in Rhode Island,” with African Americans being arrested more than three and a half times more often than their white counterparts, although their marijuana usages rates “were very similar.”

Lastly, the bill says Rhode Island does not need to enforce federal law or “prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law, and may choose whether or not to impose state criminal penalties on conduct.”

“Taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana will rob drug dealers of one of their reasons for being,” said Senator Donna Nesselbush, who plans on introducing a similar bill in the Senate. “Taxing and regulating would also create the potential for much-needed state revenue that could be used for treatment and education about the consequences of drug use and the promise of healthful living.”

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization said legalizing marijuana has been met with “more public support than every before.”

“Most Americans are fed up with laws that punish adults simply for using a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” he said. “The bill introduced today in Rhode Island presents a smarter, more responsible approach to marijuana.”

The bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee.


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