PROVIDENCE, RI — Two bills, one that would legalize and tax marijuanaand one that would reduce possession penalties by decriminalizing marijuana, have both been stalled at the Rhode Island state house following a hearing by the House Committee on Judiciary.
About two dozen supporters, and one lone dissenter, provided testimony Wednesday evening on HB 7092, which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Rhode Island, and HB 7582, the “Legalization of Marijuana Act,” which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana similar to alcohol sales in the Ocean State.
Former Providence police officer Bev Commery spoke in favor of both bills, telling committee members that the current marijuana laws are “a tremendous waste of time and resources.”
The time police spent enforcing marijuana prohibition in 2007 was equivalent to nearly 1,000 eight-hour shifts, said Jack Cole, a retired Rhode Island police lieutenant.
“Ceasing to arrest people for using small amounts of marijuana is a great step in the right direction,” said Jack Cole, a retired state police lieutenant and undercover narcotics detective. “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.”
Barrington, RI resident Kathleen Sullivan, director of Barrington’s drug prevention coalition, was the sole opponent of marijuana reform to testify at the hearing. She said she was concerned about the drug’s short- and long-term risks, especially for young people. Decriminalizing marijuana may alter how young people perceive it, she said.
“When their perception of harm goes down, over time, use rates go up,” she claimed, although that has not been the case in other states who have decriminalized marijuana, such as neighboring Massachusetts. She also voiced concerns that decriminalization could lead to increased cases of driving under the influence.
Following the hearings, the House Committee on Judiciary recommended that both bills be held for further study, effectively stalling the bills and significantly reducing their chance of passage this legislative session. This is the third consecutive year the marijuana decriminalization bill has been brought before the committee, and has yet to advance to the House for a vote.
Rhode Island residents are encouraged to contact representatives serving on the House Committee on Judiciary. A full listing of committee members, including email addresses, can be found here.
Supporters can also call (401) 222-2258 to leave a message with the committee secretary.