Rhode Island Lawmakers to Consider Taxing and Regulating Marijuana

Rhode Island Lawmakers to Consider Taxing and Regulating Marijuana

PROVIDENCE – At a press conference Wednesday, State Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), chair of the Rhode Island House Committee on Judiciary, announced the introduction of her bill to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.

Rep. Ajello was joined by State Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), who will sponsor the bill in the Senate.

The proposal has also received support from House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield, Burrillville).

In summary, 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 introduction of the bill comes just one day after members of Congress introduced historic bills to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol at the federal level.

Bills to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol have also been introduced this year in the Hawaii and New Hampshire state legislatures, and lawmakers in Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Vermont are expected to bring forward similar legislation.

“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. 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,” said Rep. Edith Ajello, sponsor of the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act. “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.”

“As a public health researcher, I know that regulation works. Over the past 20 years, we have reduced levels of teen cigarette use by nearly 50 percent, and we have done it through enacting strict regulations and providing comprehensive, evidence-based public education,” said Michelle McKenzie, spokesperson for the Rhode Island-based Coalition for Marijuana Regulation.  “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, director of communications 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 third state to see marijuana legalization legislation filed this year. The others are Hawaii and New Hampshire.

Similar bills are expected to be filed in Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.