Wednesday Hearing on Bills to Decriminalize Possession and to Legalize and Tax Sales
PROVIDENCE, RI — A former Providence police officer and a former undercover narcotics detective will testify today before a Rhode Island House committee in favor of bills that would decriminalize and legalize marijuana. The bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales (H7582/S2367), and the bill to decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana (H7092/S2253), will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee at the rise of the House (approximately 5 PM) in Room 313.
Beth Comery, who served as a Providence police officer for six years, will be testifying for the bills. “The fact is, the current marijuana laws don’t enhance public safety; they threaten it,” she said. “F.B.I. statistics indicate that nationally, nearly four of ten murders, six of ten rapes and nine of ten burglaries go unsolved. The criminal justice system should be focusing its limited resources in these areas, rather than on the approximately 800,000 people that police arrest every year for marijuana offenses.”
Comery is a speaker for the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an international group of police officers, judges, corrections officials, border agents and other criminal justice professionals who have witnessed the failures of the so-called “war on drugs” firsthand.
The decriminalization bill is co-sponsored by 22 of of the state’s 38 senators and 41 of 75 House representatives, including Republican Minority Leader Brian Newberry. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted earlier this year shows that 65 percent of Rhode Islanders support decriminalizing marijuana possession and that a majority (52 percent) support legalizing and taxing marijuana sales. In 2010, the Rhode Island Senate created a special commission to study the state’s marijuana laws. It recommended decriminalizing marijuana possession.
“Ceasing to arrest people for using small amounts of marijuana is a great step in the right direction. My home state of Massachusetts has been benefiting from such a change since 2008, when 65% of our voters passed an initiative to decriminalize marijuana,” said Jack Cole, LEAP’s board chairman, a retired state police lieutenant and undercover narcotics detective who is a resident of Medford, Massachusetts. “But unless and until we actually legalize and regulate marijuana sales, we’ll continue to see violent gangs and cartels raking in tax-free revenue from the illegal market.”
Rhode Island could bolster the state treasury by more than $48 million a year by ceasing to arrest people for marijuana and instead taxing and regulating its sales, according to Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron.