Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Hearing Today

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Hearing Today

PROVIDENCE, RI  – The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing today on a bill that would make possession of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.

Committee Chair Edith Ajello (D-Providence) introduced the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, H 5274, on February 6.

Rep. Edith Ajello

Rep. Edith Ajello

It has 19 total sponsors in the House, including six members of the Judiciary Committee and House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield, Burrillville).

If passed, Rep. Ajello’s bill would make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. By passing this bill, Rep. Ajello hopes to take unregulated marijuana sales off the black market and out of the hands of minors.

“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, Rep. Ajello said at the bill’s introduction. “These new businesses will also create jobs and generate much-needed new tax revenue.”

The bill 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 proposal has received support from several prominent lawmakers at the State House, including House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield/Burrillville) and State Senator Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), who will sponsor the bill in the Senate.

The bill also has support from local and national marijuana reform organizations, who are hopeful the Rhode Island legislature will be receptive to considering the passage of this bill.  If the bill fails at the state house, similar legislation could be sent to the voters as early as 2014.

The Rhode Island legislature is no stranger to enacting marijuana reform bills, passing legislation that legalized medical marijuana in 2009 and decriminalized possession of marijuana in 2012.

While voters in Colorado and Washington voted to enact marijuana legalization initiatives in the 2012 elections, if HB 5274 passes, Rhode Island could be the first state to end prohibition at the State House.

Other bills scheduled for the hearing on Wednesday include House Bills 5063 and  5325, which would add Salvia and other synthetic cannabinoids to the state’s list of Schedule I drugs,  and House Bill 5437, which would give landlords the discretion not to lease or rent to medical marijuana cardholders who wish to cultivate marijuana on their property.

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