By Phillip Smith
State Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Wednesday she had introduced a bill to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and over and to establish a system of taxation and regulation for marijuana commerce.
"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," Ajello said. "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."
Her bill, House Bill 5274, the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, would:
- remove criminal penalties for the private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and for the home-growing of up to three mature marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space;
- establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities;
- enact 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 (sales tax will also be applied at the point of retail sales); and
- require the Department of Business Regulation to establish rules regulating security, labeling, health and safety requirements, as well as rules requiring advertising of marijuana to be no less restrictive than advertising of tobacco.
The bill has the support of both local and national marijuana reform groups.
"As a public health researcher, I know that regulation works," said Michelle McKenzie, a spokesperson for the statewide Coalition for Marijuana Regulation. "Over the past 20 years, we have reduced levels of teen cigarette use by nearly 50%, 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."
"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," said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "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."
The bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee.
Rhode Island is the fourth state to see marijuana legalization legislation filed this year. The others are Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Similar bills are expected to be filed in Maine, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.