Saying that the prohibition of marijuana has proven “innefective, unfair and costly,” and arguing that cannabis is safer than alcohol and about to be available in the state next door anyway, a Rhode Island state senator filed legislation today to legalize, regulate and tax it there.
“In the absence of a legal, tightly regulated market, an illicit cannabis industry has thrived, undermining the public health and safety of Rhode Islanders,” the bill says.
The measure was filed Wednesday by state Sen. Joshua Miller, who represents parts of Providence and Cranston.
Miller noted in a press release that starting this summer, people in Rhode Island will be able to buy cannabis anyway, with a short drive across the state border.
“Legal marijuana sales will be available to Rhode Islanders as soon as Massachusetts retailers start offering it in July,” Miller said. “But Massachusetts will keep the revenue from their purchases when Rhode Islanders cross the border to get it. At that point, we will have just as many people using it, plus an unregulated, untaxed market in Rhode Island, with none of the money we would get for drug prevention and education programs, for law enforcement or for our general fund.
“We need this bill to give our state the resources to handle marijuana, rather than letting those resources stay in Massachusetts when our residents buy legal marijuana there and then use it here,” Miller said.
State lawmakers in Rhode Island have considered non-medical marijuana proposals for years, but they’ve failed to pass. Medical marijuana for certain conditions is legal in the state.
Miller’s bill would put a 10 percent tax on cannabis, on top of the state’s 7 percent sales tax. It would also allow local governments to put another 3 percent optional tax on top of that. That would make the total tax burden the same as in neighboring Massachusetts.
State tax proceeds would go to the general fund and health and safety initiatives, and the State Police.
The measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to two marijuana plants.
“Regulation of the substance will allow the state to create barriers to teen access, such as ID checks and serious penalties for selling to those under 21,” Miller said. “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.”
Eight states have similar non-medical use laws: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and California.