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Rhode Island has Two Chances to Legalize Cannabis in 2017

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For the past six years, two Rhode Island lawmakers have been making efforts to get marijuana legalization bills passed. But each and every year, those bills have sat in committee and have never once made it to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote. However, there is a lot of hope that 2017 is going to be the year Rhode Island finally makes the bold move to legalize marijuana for adult use now that neighboring Massachusetts has done the same.

This year there will be two chances for legislature to consider legalization – one bill introduced in the House and a bill introduced to the Senate (which just happened to be assigned the number 420, many of us probably hoping that is a really good omen of what is to come for the state!). Support for legalization has clearly grown significantly in the last few years, as the House bill is sponsored by 25 of 75 representatives, and Senate Bill No. 420 is backed by 15 out of 38 senators – and many more beyond them are in support of such a bill.

“We have this group of people that feel it’s not necessarily what their focus is, but they feel that if it came to a floor vote, they would support it,” Miller said. “That group of people has expanded every year.”

If passed, the legislation would allow for individual cities and towns to opt-out of allowing the commercial cannabis market – but it would have to be put to a referendum and voted on by the citizens in order to do so. Those in opposition are arguing that the cost of holding an election for a referendum like this is expensive and time-consuming, but it’s really the only fair way to ensure that what the majority of citizens want is what will happen. After all, if only a very small portion of the community wants to see a ban on retail shops and cultivation facilities, while the majority want those things, then how is it fair to put such a ban in place?

“We don’t need more study groups. This isn’t new territory anymore,” said Elizabeth Comery.

Others who are opposed – or at least not yet convinced legalization is the way to go – have put bills forward which would allow for a study commission to try and slow down the process of legalization. However, it seems that most lawmakers are on the same page at this point. We’ve been discussing it for years and the sky hasn’t fallen in on Colorado, Washington, Oregon or any of the other states to legalize cannabis so far;  it’s just time to accept that legalization is more effective than prohibition ever could have hoped to be when it comes to regulating the controversial plant.

There has not yet been dates set for public hearings on the bills, but both are in Judiciary Committee review for the time being. After the public hearings where those in favor and opposed can let their opinions be heard, the committee will review the bill and either approve it for consideration on the floor, make changes to the bills, or simply let them sit like they have all the others that have come before now. Hopefully with the increased support for a legalization bill we will see one or both of these bills making it to a full vote soon.