Legalization Introduced in R.I. Legislature

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The fourth time might just be the charm.

A bill was introduced in the Rhode Island Legislature Feb. 12 that would make recreational marijuana legal for all adults over 21. It’s the fourth straight year such legislation has come up, but the odds of success have grown increasingly strong.

In other words, the bill is a good bet – if not this year, then soon. The proposed law would allow Rhode Islanders to buy and possess up to one ounce of weed and grow up to two mature plants in an “enclosed locked space.”

legalize marijuanaIn addition, up to 10 stores would be licensed to sell marijuana statewide. Those limits are tight, especially the two-plant maximum, but they could help sell the proposal to skeptical lawmakers.

“Smoking in public would continue to be illegal, as would stoned driving and sales to underage users,” said state Rep. Edith H. Ajello, Democrat and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. “I do not encourage or promote marijuana use.”

Ajello sponsored the bill along with state Sen. Josh Miller, also a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Legalization is seen by many in Rhode Island as a way to ameliorate the state’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the nation. Recreational weed could provide new jobs and generate millions in taxes for the state.

Rhode Island “desperately needs new revenue sources,” Miller said. The bill would impose an excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the transaction between grower and seller and a separate 10 percent tax on the transaction between seller and customer.

Rhode Island is widely viewed as a ripe target for marijuana reform. It’s one of 10 states the Marijuana Policy Project hopes to legalize by 2017 (along with most of the rest of New England). It’s also one of the few states likely to use legislation rather than a ballot initiative.

That could mean much tighter restrictions, since cannabis advocates will have less say in the process. But it could also mean fewer problems with the federal government, which is keeping a watchful eye on states with legal weed.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized so far. Another 19 allow medical marijuana, including Rhode Island, and 15 states have removed criminal penalties for possession without legalizing the industry. Polls show most Americans support legalization.

Last summer, the Justice Department announced it wouldn’t interfere with states that legalize as long as they enforce several federal priorities, such as keeping weed away from kids.

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