Marijuana Legalization, Regulation Bill Introduced

A proposed bill would make the drug and communities safer while raising tax revenue for the state, supporters say.


Release courtesy of the Legislative Press Bureau.

Rep. Edith H. Ajello and Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush, joined by drug policy reform advocates, today announced legislation to legalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island for adults age 21 and older, with regulations and taxes similar to those for alcohol.

“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 Representative Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), who is chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. “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 Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act would remove state-level criminal penalties for the private possession by adults age 21 and over of up to one ounce of marijuana and for the home-growing of up to three mature marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space.

The legislation would establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, 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, and rules requiring advertising of marijuana, which must be no less restrictive than the rules for tobacco advertising. 

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 and supports gangs and cartels while the state could be making significant tax income on marijuana and improving its safety.

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

The legislators announced the bill today at a news conference sponsored by the Rhode Island-based Coalition for Marijuana Regulation, a grassroots citizens group.

Said Michelle McKenzie, a public health researcher and spokesperson for the coalition, said, “As a public health researcher, I know that regulation works. Over the past 20 years, we have reduced levels of teen cigarette use by nearly 50 percent, and we have done it through enacting strict regulations and providing comprehensive, evidence-based public education. We can do the same thing when it comes to marijuana. I am confident that regulating marijuana will make Rhode Island a safer and healthier place to live.”

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

“State and federal lawmakers from around the nation are bringing forward proposals to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and they are being met with more public support than ever before. Most Americans are fed up with laws that punish adults simply for using a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. The bill introduced today in Rhode Island presents a smarter, more responsible approach to marijuana,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization.

Representative Ajello introduced her legislation (2013-H 5274) yesterday. It is cosponsored by House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist.48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), Rep. Peter Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport) and Rep. Larry Valencia (D-Dist. 39, Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter), and others. Senator Nesselbush intends to introduce the legislation in the Senate soon.

See the attached document for the complete proposed legislation.


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