PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Mar. 17, 2017) – Bills introduced in the Rhode Island legislature would legalize marijuana for recreational use, taking a big step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.

Senate Bill 420 (S420) was introduced by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) and four bipartisan co-sponsors to legalize marijuana under a tax-and-regulate system enforced at the state level. The legislation reads as follows:

Prohibiting the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis 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 cannabis industry has thrived, undermining the public health and safety of Rhode Islanders…

Recognizing that a majority of Rhode Islanders support ending the failed policy of cannabis prohibition, Rhode Island joins these other states in replacing cannabis prohibition with regulation and taxation.

“Most Rhode Islanders recognize prohibition has failed and seem to view regulating marijuana is a no-brainer,” Regulate Rhode Island director Jared Moffat said in a press release. “Regulation better protects young people, improves public health and safety, and creates more economic opportunities for workers and entrepreneurs in our state. No matter how you look at it, this is clearly a smart path for us to take. Lawmakers would be wise to follow the will of their constituents.”

Under the provisions of S.420, individuals could lawfully use, obtain, purchase, transport, or possess up to one ounce of smokable marijuana. In addition, smokeless marijuana could be lawfully used as long as the “products [contain] no more than three hundred milligrams” of active THC. Five ounces of cannabis could be possessed in an individual’s residence as well. Paraphernalia would be legalized as well, along with transporting lawfully-possessed marijuana in a motor vehicle and giving away lawfully-possessed marijuana.

A companion bill has been introduced in the House. H.5555 is sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) and gives the Ocean State two separate opportunities to legalize recreational marijuana, in turn nullifying federal prohibition, during the current legislative session.

”A strong and growing majority of voters support our proposal to regulate marijuana,” Rep. Slater said in a Marijuana Policy Project press release. “Our job is to represent the people of this state, and their position on this issue is pretty clear. It’s time to replace the senseless policy of marijuana prohibition with a sensible policy of regulation.”

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as S.420 and H.5555 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.


The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. 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.

Legalization of marijuana in Rhode Island would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, Rhode Island essentially sweeps away most 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 Island could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“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.


S.420 will need to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee before it can be considered by the full Senate. H.5555 will need to pass the House Judiciary Committee before it can be considered by the full House.

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