PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Mar. 17, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Rhode Island House would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Passage would not only legalize marijuana in the Ocean State, but would also take a big step toward thwarting federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.
Rep. Scott Slater (D-10) introduced House Bill 7752 (H.7752) on Feb. 25 along with four bipartisan co-sponsors. The legislation declares the following:
"Prohibiting the cultivation and sale of marijuana to adults has proven to be an ineffective, unfair, and costly policy for the state of Rhode Island. In the absence of a legal, tightly regulated market, an illicit marijuana industry has thrived, undermining the public health and safety of Rhode Islanders."
From there, H.7752 would legalize marijuana by putting in new regulations that allow for the possession and distribution of marijuana through the marketplace. It reads:
"(1) A person who is twenty-one (21) years of age or older is exempt from arrest, civil or criminal penalty, seizure or forfeiture of assets, discipline by any state or local licensing board, and state prosecution for the following acts:
(i) Actually and constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing one ounce (1 oz) or less of marijuana, not including marijuana products;
(ii) Actually and constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing marijuana products containing no more than three hundred milligrams (300 mg) of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol;
(iii) Controlling any premises or vehicle where persons who are twenty-one (21) years of age or older possess, process, or store amounts of marijuana and marijuana products…
(iv) Using, obtaining, manufacturing, producing, purchasing, transporting, or possessing, actually or constructively, marijuana paraphernalia;
(v) Selling, delivering, or transferring, marijuana seeds to a marijuana establishment or to a person who is twenty-one (21) years of age or older;"
If H.7752 is successful, Rhode Island would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature rather than the ballot initiative process.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage of H.7752 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession, cultivation or use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any legal authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While the Rhode Island bill would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward stopping in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By erasing the state laws, the Rhode Island legislature would essentially sweep away the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
If the state legislature passes H.7752, Rhode Island would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically blocking the ban.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.
H.7752 must pass the House Judiciary Committee before it can receive a full vote in the House.