It is time again to end a useless prohibition, according to two legislators who have proposed legalizing marijuana.
Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Donna Nesselbush announced Wednesday they have proposed legislation to legalize marijuana possession in Rhode Island for adults age 21 and older. Pot would be regulated and taxed similar to alcohol under their proposal. The legislation follows last year's decriminalization of marijuana possession in Rhode Island, due to go into effect this spring.
“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 in a prelease. “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.”
Under the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, Rhode Islanders over 21 would be permitted ton have up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three marijuana plants in their homes.
The legislation also calls for licensed marijuana retail stores, grow 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 would charge an excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on wholesale purchases of marijuana. Retailers would also be required to collect the state’s 7-percent sales tax.
Nesselbush and Diaz said banning marijuana has done little to stop drug use, and instead has created a black market that makes buying marijuana more dangerous and supports gangs and cartels. The state could make marijuana use safer while tax dollars.
“Taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana will rob drug dealers of one of their reasons for being," Nesselbush said. "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."
Even if the proposal passes, Rhode Islanders are not necessarily safe from prosecution. Federal laws prohibiting marijuana stiil apply, though most arrests for marijuana possession are made under state law, and legislation was introduced in Congress Tuesday to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana federally.
Rhode Island would not be alone in legalizing the substance. In November, voters in Colorado and Washington approved laws that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Similar bills have also been introduced this year in the Hawaii and New Hampshire state legislatures, and are expected in Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
What do you think? Should marijuana be legalized and taxed? Do you think the General Assembly will approve the legislation?