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WIRE: Rhode Island cannabis activists propose ‘incremental legalization’ as compromise

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Regulate Rhode Island and allied legislators are announcing a new proposal they call “incremental legalization.” Specifically, the compromise legislation would:

•    legalize possession of an ounce or less for adults 21 and older on July 1, 2018 when marijuana retail stores are scheduled to open in Massachusetts; and

•    establish a six-person advisory board comprised of two state officials selected by the governor, two state senators, and two state representatives to study outcomes of legalization in other states and issue a report by January 1, 2018 with recommendations for the General Assembly on how to establish a system for taxing and regulating marijuana in Rhode Island.

Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) are prepared to amend their legalization bills (S 0420 and H 5555) to reflect these changes.

Sen. Miller said, “We are prepared to compromise in a significant way, but there must be progress on the issue this year. 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.”

Rep. Slater added, “Legislative leaders in Massachusetts say that marijuana businesses will be open there no later than July 1, 2018. 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. 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.”

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of H 5551, which would establish a 22-person study commission on marijuana legalization. The Marijuana Policy Project and its local partner Regulate Rhode Island believe the House’s study commission will be ineffective.

Matthew Schweich, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “Rhode Island voters want to see progress on this issue, and a 22-person study commission will not be constructive. It would simply be a repeat of the debate we have already had for the past several years. 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. Our proposal is a more sensible approach that represents a meaningful first step toward finally ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in Rhode Island.”

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Regulate Rhode Island is a coalition of community leaders, organizations, and residents committed to ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. Member organizations include the Rhode Island NAACP, Rhode Island ACLU, Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Rhode Island Working Families, Rhode Island Sierra Club, Rhode Island Young Democrats, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and the Marijuana Policy Project, among others. For more information, visit

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