Legalization of Marijuana Act would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol
PROVIDENCE, RI — A pair of bills, one that would legalize and tax marijuana and one that would reduce possession penalties by decriminalizing marijuana, are both scheduled to receive a hearing by the House Committee on Judiciary at the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon.
The first bill, HB 7092, would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Rhode Island. Under the proposed bill, marijuana would remain illegal, but penalties for possession would be significantly lessened. If passed, Rhode Islanders caught with an ounce or less would pay a $150 dollar fine, but face no jail time.
The second bill, HB 7582, the “Legalization of Marijuana Act,” would outright legalize marijuana, regulating it much as the state regulates alcohol. The bill, if passed, would allow anyone 21 years old or older to possess and grow small quantities of marijuana, and would impose a cannabis tax.
Individuals 21 or older would be allowed to grow their own marijuana, but would have to pay a $100 per plant tax by purchasing a state-issued zip tie and affix it to the branch of each plant, or face a civil fine of $500 for one plant or $1,000 for two or three plants — but no possible criminal charges. Growers under 21 years of age could still be charged with a misdemeanor, and would face up to $1,000 in fines and up to 10 days in jail. Licensed caregivers and patients in Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program would be exempt from paying the per-plant growing tax.
The bill does place some restrictions on where cannabis can and can not be grown. Marijuana wouldn’t be able to be grown “in public view,” and if it is grown outdoors, it would have to be in an enclosed, secure area. “Reasonable precautions” would also have to be taken if marijuana was being grown at a home where one or more minors under 21 years old live, to ensure they would not have access to the cannabis.
The Legalization of Marijuana Act would also set the framework for a retail distribution system. Marijuana retailers would have to purchase $5,000 annual licenses and wholesalers would pay a $50-per-ounce excise tax. Wholesale marijuana grows would be allowed in state-regulated, secure facilities, similar to alcohol distribution centers.
The Legalization of Marijuana Act includes provisions that would prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana, as well as possession of marijuana in prisons and schools. Smoking marijuana would also be prohibited in public places, with fines ranging from $250-500, similar to laws regulating consumption of alcohol in public places in the state.
Similar bills were introduced last year but did not receive a vote.