PROVIDENCE, R.I. (June 23, 2021) – Yesterday, the Rhode Island Senate passed a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.

Sen. Michael McCaffrey (D) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D) introduced Senate Bill 568 (S568) in March. Under the proposed law, adults 21 and over could possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. The legislation would also create a regulatory and tax structure for commercial cultivation and retail sale of marijuana run by a Cannabis Control Commission.

The measure also includes provisions that would create a process to expunge the records of past convictions involving up to two ounces of marijuana.

On June 22, the Senate passed S568 by a 29-9 vote.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said the Rhode Island vote continues the building momentum to end marijuana prohibition at the state level, noting five states have legalized cannabis for adult use this year.

“The American people are sick and tired of our failed prohibitionist policies and finally, their elected officials are enacting the will of their constituents,” he said.

Rhode Island could join 18 other states that have legalized marijuana despite continuing federal prohibition of cannabis.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., under federal law, it remains illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis 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.

Rhode Island legalized medical marijuana in 2006 and removed one layer of laws punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition remains in effect. Legalizing marijuana for adult use would take another major step and would effectively end state marijuana prohibition. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep 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.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

To date, 18 states have legalized adult-use marijuana despite federal prohibition.

Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New YorkNew MexicoVirginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.

With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.

The lesson here is pretty straightforward. 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.

S568 highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.

WHAT’S NEXT

S568 will now move to the House for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a House committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.


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