PROVIDENCE, R.I. (July 25, 2016) – Last week, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill expanding the state’s medical marijuana law, further nullifying federal prohibition in practice.
A trio of Democrats, Rep. Scott Slater, Rep. Patricia Serpa and Rep. Joseph Solomon, introduced House Bill 7142 (HB7142) in January. The legislation expands the state’s medical marijuana law by making medicinal cannabis accessible to patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
The new law also streamlines issuance of a registry identification cards for hospice patients, cutting the time from 15 days to 72 hours. It also waives the registration fee for hospice patients and their caregivers.
HB7142 passed the House by a 67-1 margin. The Senate concurred on a voice vote. With Raimondo’s signature, the new law went into immediate effect.
Rhode Island legalized marijuana for medical use in 2006. The expansion of the state law demonstrates an important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, the program tends to eventually expand. When the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. HB7142 represents another step forward for patients seeking alternative treatments and a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional 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 Rhode Island law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Rhode Island essentially sweeps away part of 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.
Rhode Isaland is among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 25 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 nullifying 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,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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