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3/5/2015 House, Senate bills introduced to regulate, tax marijuana
Sponsors anticipate tens of millions in revenue for state
STATE HOUSE – Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller and House Finance Committee member Scott A. Slater have introduced legislation to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and to establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.

Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and Representative Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) discussed the legislation during a news conference at the State House today, addressing the implications from a law enforcement point of view and also the potential revenue benefit to the state.

“Marijuana prohibition has been a long-term failure,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence). “Forcing marijuana into the underground market ensures authorities have no control of the product. Regulating marijuana would allow the product to be sold safely and responsibly by legitimate businesses in appropriate locations.”

“Most Rhode Island voters agree it is time to end marijuana prohibition and start treating the product like alcohol,” said Representative Slater. “Eliminating the criminality of personal use of the substance will allow law enforcement to focus their attention on curtailing the more serious and dangerous drugs on our streets.”

Regulation of the substance, the legislators said, will allow the state to create barriers to teen access, such as ID checks and serious penalties for selling to those under 21. Taxing marijuana sales could generate tens of millions of dollars in much-needed tax revenue for the state, a portion of which will be directed towards programs that treat and prevent alcohol and other substance abuse.

The measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to two marijuana plants (only one may be mature) in an enclosed, locked space; establish a tightly regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities; enact an excise tax of up to $50 per ounce on the wholesale sale of marijuana flowers applied at the point of transfer from the cultivation facility to a retail store (a special 10-percent sales tax will also be applied at the point of retail sale); and require the Department of Business Regulation to establish rules regulating security, labeling, health and safety requirements.

A majority of Rhode Island voters (53 percent) support changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling last year. Only 41 percent were opposed.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Many of those states, including Rhode Island, have passed medical marijuana laws allowing for limited use of cannabis. Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In Alaska, adults 21 and older can now transport, buy or possess up to an ounce of marijuana and six plants. Oregon voters approved a similar measure allowing adults to possess up to an ounce in public and eight ounces in their homes. Marijuana adult-use legalization was approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in 2012 and both states have since implemented the policies. Officials in the District of Columbia are moving ahead with plans to implement a marijuana initiative approved by voters.

The legislation is similar to bills introduced during the 2014 session, but includes some important changes. This year’s bills clarify that landlords do not have to allow the consumption, cultivation, display or transfer of marijuana on or in their property. Also clarified is a timeline for the Department of Business Regulation to issue a registration and to begin accepting applications for retail registrations. The 2015 bills also include language that requires the department to prohibit or regulate additives to marijuana and marijuana-infused products, including edibles, and language mandating random sampling to ensure quality control.
The legislation also proposes to add a new section to state law. “The Hemp Act” would define the plant, allow it to be grown as a crop in the state and sets registration procedures for hemp growers.

The Miller bill, 2015-S 0510, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary. Co-sponsors include Sen. Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5, Providence), Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreman).

The Slater bill, 2015-H 5777, has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. Co-sponsors include House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, Burrillville, North Smithfield), Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence).

For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457