2013-02-14 / News

Proposed legislation would legalize marijuana

State Rep. Edith H. Ajello and Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush announced legislation last week to legalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island with regulations and taxes similar to those for alcohol. The legal age would be 21.

The act would remove statelevel criminal penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. It would also allow adults to grow up to three marijuana plants in their home.

“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, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee who represents District 1 in Providence. “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 legislation would establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores and testing facilities to ensure that marijuana sold in Rhode Island is free of contaminants or other drugs. Under the bill, the Department of Business Regulation would establish rules regulating security, labeling, health and safety requirements.

The legislation enacts an excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of marijuana applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store. Additionally, retailers would be required to collect the state’s 7 percent sales tax on marijuana.

The sponsors contend that current drug policy banning marijuana has done little to stop drug use, and instead has created a black market that makes marijuana use and acquisition more dangerous.

“Taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana will rob drug dealers of one of their reasons for being,” said Nesselbush. “It will likely reduce crime, weaken gangs and cartels, and allow our hard-working law-enforcement officials to focus on serious violent crime.”

Although changing the state law will not affect federal laws prohibiting marijuana, the vast majority of arrests for marijuana possession are made under state law. Additionally, the announcement was made one day after similar legislation was introduced in Congress tolegalize, regulate and tax marijuana federally.

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington approved laws that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Bills to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol have also been introduced this year in

Hawaii and New Hampshire, and lawmakers in Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont are expected to bring forward similar legislation.

Former state Rep. Patrick Kennedy is against the bill. “Legalizing marijuana is an extreme answer to our marijuana problem,” said Kennedy, founder and chairman of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “We need a third way between legalization and incarceration. Legalization is a threat to public health and runs counter to mental health parity.”

Return to top