Representative Edith Ajello and Senator Donna Nesselbush are submitting bills that will legalize the use of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.
Under the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, 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 would be removed; a tightly regulated system of marijuana retail stores, cultivation and research facilities would be established; and the Department of Business Regulation would establish rules regulating security, labeling, health and safety requirements.
Advertising of marijuana products would be regulated as well, and are to be no less restrictive than tobacco advertising. When pressed on this point, Ajello felt that they would be quite a bit more restrictive.
Marijuana would be a taxable commodity. An excise tax of $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of marijuana from the cultivation facility to retail store will be exacted as well as sales taxes taken at the point of sale to the consumer.
Similar bills are being considered in other states, including Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Also, national legislation has been been proposed to legalize marijuana by US Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-CO).
When asked about former US Representative Patrick Kennedy’s opposition to legalization and his search for a “third way” between criminalization and legalization, Rep Ajello noted the lack of particulars in Kennedy’s plan. She suggested that her bill does fall between Kennedy’s dichotomy of criminalization and legalization by making marijuana a tightly controlled substance.
Michelle McKenzie, a public health researcher and spokesperson for the Rhode Island-based Coalition for Marijuana Regulation said that research shows that over 20 years of regulation and education have reduced teen cigarette use by 50%, and she hopes that the same can be done with marijuana use among teens if the product can be regulated and taken off the black market.
Nesselbush talked of the money that would be taken away from drug cartels and criminal gangs, and the savings that can be found in law enforcement as they concentrate on violent crime rather than targeting casual marijuana use. When asked how her more conservative, working class constituents will react to her support of the bill, Nesselbush mentioned the taxes that the bill could raise, money that could offset housing and income tax for citizens.
Ajello mentioned that Rhode Island was the only state not to ratify the 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol some eighty years ago, because we had the wisdom to see what the rest of the country did not: Prohibition does not work.
Supporting the legislation were Rhode Island citizens, members of the Rhode Island -based Coalition for Marijuana Regulation, and Protect Families First, “a grassroots Rhode Island-based organization that raises public awareness and promotes policy change to advance progressive family issues.”
It’s time for sensible marijuana policy in Rhode Island.