Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Revisited by Lawmakers


PROVIDENCE, RI — Testimony on a bill to make Rhode Island the third state in the country to legalize and regulate the possession of marijuana by adults has been revisited by lawmakers, receiving a hearing Tuesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard several hours of testimony late Tuesday on Senate Bill 334, The Marijuana Regulation, Control And Taxation Act, which was introduced  by Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-District 15) earlier this year.

The bill would regulate and tax marijuana similar to alcohol for adults 21 or older.

Sen. Nesselbush estimates that the projected tax revenue that would come from legal sales of marijuana in Rhode Island is between 20 and 71 million dollars per year.

“We don’t know exactly, because we don’t know how many people are smoking marijuana,” she said. “But, whatever revenues are raised, 50 percent of those revenues would go to the general funds, and 40 percent would go toward education and treatment of drug issues.”

A companion bill filed in the House,  House Bill 5274, was held for further study in March by the House Judiciary Committee following initial hearings on the bill in February.

Both bills would remove state-level criminal penalties for the private possession by adults age 21 and over of up to one ounce of marijuana and for the home-growing of up to three mature marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space.


The legislation would establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities to ensure that marijuana sold in Rhode Island is free of contaminants or other drugs.

Under the bill, the Department of Business Regulation would establish rules regulating security, labeling, health and safety requirements, and rules requiring advertising of marijuana, which must be no less restrictive than the rules for tobacco advertising.

The legislation enacts 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. Additionally, retailers would be required to collect the state’s 7-percent sales tax on marijuana.

The sponsors contend that current drug policy banning marijuana has done little to stop drug use, and instead has created a black market that makes marijuana use and acquisition more dangerous and supports gangs and cartels while the state could be making significant tax income on marijuana and improving its safety.

“Taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana will rob drug dealers of one of their reasons for being. It will likely reduce crime, weaken gangs and cartels and allow our hard-working law enforcement officials to focus on serious and/or violent crime. Taxing and regulating would also create the potential for much-needed state revenue that could be used for treatment and education about the consequences of drug use and the promise of healthful living,” said Senator Nesselbush.

If the legalization bills fail 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.