PROVIDENCE, RI — A key committee in the Rhode Island House recommended Wednesday that several marijuana related bills, including a bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, be held for further study. A similar measure, however, remains pending in the Senate.
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on seven marijuana bills Wednesday evening, and despite strong public support for bills to legalize marijuana and bills to improve upon the state’s medical marijuana and decriminalization laws, the committee elected to hold each bill for further study following the hearing.
Lawmakers heard testimony on bills to lift the limit on the number of marijuana plants the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries can grow, allowing them to set limits based on projected patient need and demand; a bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for the state’s medical marijuana program; and a bill to refer minors caught with marijuana to family court instead of traffic court.
But the highlight of the testimony heard Wednesday evening was a bill to tax and regulate marijuana in the Ocean State, a bill that could potentially bring up to $82 million in annual tax revenue to the cash-strapped state.
“The current policy isn’t working,” testified Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), sponsor of House Bill 7506, the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act. “Prohibition isn’t working. This legislation will do something to help with education and treatment, and it will have the bonus of tax income for the state.”
Over 200 members of the public had signed up to testify before the committee in favor of the bill. They included David Lewis, founder of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University; Andy Horwitz, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at Roger William University School of Law; Beth Comery, a former Providence police officer and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, and Rebecca McGoldrick, executive director of Protect Families First.
However, it was the testimony of one opponent to the bill, Col. Steven G. O’Donnell, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, that the Committee took to heart. O’Donnell recommended that the the Judiciary Committee establish a study committee before taking action on the bill.
While it is possible the House could still act upon these bills despite the recommendation of the influential Judiciary Committee to send the bills to study, it is unlikely.
The other bills heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night inculded:
- House Bill 7981, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of conditions that qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program. The bill would also accelerate the application and approval process for the eligibility of medical marijuana use for any condition if the patient is in hospice care.
- House Bill 7862, which would allow the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries, referenced as compassion centers in the state program, to set their own limits on the amount of marijuana they grow and have in inventory based on the projected need of their patients.
- House Bill 7611, which would impose advertising restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries by prohibiting them from advertising medical marijuana sales in print, broadcast or as in-person solicitation.
- House Bill 7610, which would change the number of plants a medical marijuana patient or caregiver can grow, and doubles the amount of medical marijuana a patient or caregiver can possess. The bill would also require medical marijuana patients and caregivers to apply for a “cultivation certificate” if they wish to grow their own medical marijuana.
- House Bill 7861 would change the fine imposed under the marijuana decriminalization law that took effect last year. Currently, a $150 civil violation only applies to a person’s first or second offense in an 18 month period. Offenders can still face potential jail time for subsequent offenses. HB 7861 would make the fine fine “not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than two hundred dollars ($200)” for any offense. In addition, offenders’ records would be immediately sealed upon payment of the fine, currently they are sealed 18 months after the citation date.
- House Bill 7765 would transfer the jurisdiction of minors under 18 caught in possession of marijuana from the Traffic Tribunal to the Family Court. Under the proposal, the Family Court could order a substance abuse assessment and, if recommended, substance abuse treatment in addition to existing penalties for minors.
The Committee recommended that all seven bills be held for further study.