PROVIDENCE R.I. (March 23, 2022) – Over the last couple of weeks, Rhode Island House and Senate committees have held hearings on bills that would legalize marijuana for adult use despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Joshua Miller (D) introduced Senate Bill 2430 (S2430) on March 1. Rep. Scott Slater (D) introduced the companion, House Bill 7593 (H7593), on the same day. The legislation would legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older. Possession of up to 2 ounces would be decriminalized for people over 18. The bills would also create a regulatory structure for the cultivation and sale of marijuana. Home cultivation of up to six plants (three mature) would be allowed under the law.
On March 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on S2430. The committee did not vote on the bill, holding it “for further study.” This is a typical move in Rhode Island, giving committee members more time to consider the legislation.
On March 22, the House Finance Committee held a hearing on H7593, also without a vote.
There are also provisions to legalize marijuana in Gov. Dan McKee’s budget proposal.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
All of this is illegal according to the federal government.
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. This removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains in effect. The legalization of cannabis for adult use would take another step and remove more state laws. 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
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 York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 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. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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.”
The move to legalize adult-use marijuana in Rhode Island reveals 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.
The bills must pass their respective committees by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.