PROVIDENCE, R.I. (May 19, 2022) – Yesterday, Rhode Island House and Senate committees overwhelmingly passed bills to 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 bill, House Bill 5793 (H5793). Under the proposed law, adults 21 and over could purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals could also grow up to six cannabis plants for personal use. The legislation would also create a legal and tax structure for the commercial cultivation and retail sale of marijuana. The bill includes provisions for the automatic expungement of past marijuana charges.
On May 18, the House Finance Committee passed H5793 by a 12-2 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved S2430 by a 9-1 vote.
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 a 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.
S2430 and H5793 will now move to the full Senate and House for further debate. They are scheduled to be brought up in their respective chambers on Tuesday, May 24.