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Rhode Island Lawmakers Pitch ‘Incremental Legalization’ Plan

June 8, 2017
(SeanPavonePhoto/iStock)
Under a new plan being proposed by Rhode Island lawmakers, the possession of less than an ounce of cannabis could be legal as soon as next summer—and a regulated marketplace could soon follow.

The proposal, dubbed “incremental legalization,” isn’t meant merely to ease Rhode Island gently into legalization. It’s also an effort to synchronize the state’s cannabis reforms with the opening of Massachusetts’s adult-use cannabis market, set for July 1, 2018.

The plan is contained in a set of amendments proposed by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence), who have introduced bills— S 0420 and H 5555—to legalize cannabis in Rhode Island.

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“We are prepared to compromise in a significant way, but there must be progress on the issue this year,” Miller said in a statement about the changes. “Our proposal balances the will of the majority of voters who want marijuana to be legal for adults while respecting colleagues who want to slow things down and get the regulations right.”

While the plan would initially legalize only personal possession, it would also establish a group charged with making recommendations around how Rhode Island should structure a regulated market of its own. The six-person advisory board would comprise two state officials selected by the governor, two state senators, and two state representatives to study the outcomes of legalization in other states. The board would need to issue a report by Jan. 1, 2018, with recommendations for the General Assembly on taxation and regulation.

In a press release, Slater said the compromised plan was the right one as the rest of the Northeast moves toward ending prohibition.

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“Rhode Islanders will be able to cross the border and legally purchase marijuana, and they should not be considered lawbreakers in our state when they come back,” he said. “Virtually all of our neighboring states are moving in this direction, and we want to see Rhode Island at least establish a viable path to legalization so that we are ready to move forward next year.”

It’s not the only piece of cannabis legislation getting attention in Rhode Island. On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of H 5551, which would establish a 22-person commission to study legalization.

Both the Marijuana Policy Project and its local partner, Regulate Rhode Island, have expressed concerns the House’s study commission will be ineffective. Matthew Schweich, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the “incremental” approach is a much more sensible one.

“Rhode Island voters want to see progress on this issue, and a 22-person study commission will not be constructive,” he said. “Instead of asking ‘if’ we should legalize marijuana, which is a question best addressed by the existing committee process in the General Assembly, we should study ‘how’ legalization could be implemented.”

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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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  • Brian Kelly

    Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

    • Brian Kelly

      Every time politicians create a “commission to study marijuana legalization” they are really just prohibitionists using the commission as a stall tactic, find/create negatives, and to try to stir public fear over the inevitable legalization of marijuana nationwide.

      Such prohibitionist “commissions” to study marijuana legalization” aren’t fooling, frightening, nor convincing anybody with at least half a brain and their very own internet access with Google.

      No more stall tactics!

      It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

      Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

      The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

      Legalize Nationwide!

      • Brian Kelly

        The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

        Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

        The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

        Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

        The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

        Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

        Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

        • Brian Kelly

          Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

          Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

          The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

          If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more detriment to our society than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

          Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more detriment to our society than all other drugs, COMBINED?

          Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier lives, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.